The Power of Family

Jul 08, 2021   |  By Eric Borsuk

Before his arrest, Kish had been staying with his brother and his brother’s nine children. Living together, they had all grown close to one another. Kish lovingly recalls how one of his youngest nieces kept mistakenly calling him “brother” instead of “uncle”. As he was leaving the house one day, he told her that if she knew his name by the time he returned, he would have a gift for her.

When Kish returned, his niece called him by his name, and he says that it was one of the proudest moments of his life.

“A day later, I got locked up,” he says. “All I could think about was her knowing my name and how happy that made me … and how I had thrown it all away.”

For Kish, that was the moment when everything changed. He had been in and out of the justice system his entire life, starting at the age of 12. In his words, he had been “raised in the system” with a “street mentality”. However, before living in his brother’s home, he had never known that sort of love and family connection.

While incarcerated, Kish recalls that he could not stop thinking about his nieces and nephews and how much they looked up to him. He vowed never to make the same mistakes again.

“You have to lead by example,” he says. “It’s not just about me. I don’t want them growing up thinking that my experiences are the norm and following in my footsteps.”

Kish focused on changing his behaviors and thought processes rather than succumbing to the usual pitfalls of prison life. Through hard work and perseverance, he secured a coveted job outside of the institution walls and ultimately overcame a nearly lifelong cycle of justice involvement.

“That job showed me abilities that I never even knew I had. It felt good knowing that I could work an eight-hour shift. That’s something I never really knew I could do. So, when I got out, I kept that momentum going.”

One day, while visiting his parole officer, Kish bumped into an old friend. While incarcerated together, the friend gave him some tips on how best to navigate the reentry process. His friend’s main piece of advice: contact the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO). That’s exactly what Kish did. After completing the program orientation, he began working with a landscaping crew in Schenectady.

Since then, Kish has become a member of the Participant Advocate Council (PAC), a group of dedicated CEO participants and program alumni using their shared “lived experience” as a mechanism for social justice and criminal legal reform. He says that it has been a “breath of fresh air” to be around like-minded individuals committed to the same cause. Since joining the PAC, Kish has become involved in numerous policy issues, such as parole reform.

Today, Kish is a full-time truck driver living in upstate New York. Sadly, in March, his brother passed away, at age 44, from complications due to COVID-19. Kish says he is grateful that he was not incarcerated at the time and could be there for his nieces and nephews. Recalling his childhood, he knew how hard it is when children are put in the difficult position of raising their siblings.

Kish didn’t have much support or guidance growing up, which is why he wants to be that figure for the younger generation, so they don’t go down the same path that he did. In turn, he says that watching how courageously his nieces and nephews have dealt with the tragic loss of their father gives him the strength and motivation to carry on. Kish says that everything he does today, he does for them and shared that he even had to buy a bigger car to transport them all around.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to be in their lives. Nothing is worth losing your family.”