Text by Daryl Khan | Photos by Robert Stolarik
On a bitterly cold winter January morning in 2008, Adam Friedman and Alvin Valentine, friends and co-workers, climbed into a Brooklyn boxing ring and proceeded to go after each other for three hard-hitting rounds. There was nothing particularly artful about what transpired in those grunting six minutes. Some solid blows were landed, there were no knock-outs, and, thankfully, no blood. It was one fight of probably dozens that transpired that day.
But for both men, the boxing match represented something very different. For Alvin, a Blood gang leader and longtime inmate, it was a chance to fight for something other than his life — to fight for fun instead of respect, or to instill discipline in the yard or to send a message to a fellow inmate. For Adam, it was a chance to face down a monster that had tormented him since childhood — fear.
That both men would ever cross paths, let alone end up facing each other down in the squared circle, was unlikely. They came from as different backgrounds as New York City can offer, a distance much farther than the trip from the Upper West Side and Brownsville, Brooklyn that separated their apartments. The nerd and the hood, the poor kid and the middle-class geek, the professional and the prisoner.
But a shared passion — to help convicts find their way back into society and prevent them from returning to prison — brought them together. They met at Exodus Transitional Community, a grassroots organization with the goal of helping recently released inmates make their way back into mainstream society.
There they worked together using very different pasts to forge secure futures for strangers. Adam used the Clockwork of his experience as a fundraiser and former advertising executive to organize and attend to the details that would make the programs a success; while Alvin used the Orange of his authenticity in the life, drawing on his violent past as a badge of credibility to convince the skeptical clients that change was a real possibility, that the people at Exodus weren’t peddling sentimental dross.
In the immediate wake of the fight, neither Adam or Alvin’s lives changed much. Life at Exodus went on much as it did before, the slog of work illuminated by moments of transformation with clients desperate for a change. But over the years, the fight grew to take on different meanings for both men, and it took on a life of its own to strangers who saw the fight in countless workshops and drew inspiration from it in their own way. Alvin and Adam are no longer at Exodus. They have moved on to new jobs, with the help of former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, they went on to new lives.
On JJIE, read the full story of Adam and Alvin the fight they had, and how it still shapes the men they are today.