……As a high school drop out, he went away with only a tenth-grade education. But during his incarceration, ‘old-timers’ who had transformed their lives inspired him to wanting more than a criminal lifestyle. with positive mentors, he began shedding the criminal mindset and pursuing a formal education. He acquired a GED and later achieved a Bachelor of  Arts in Social Studies from the Bard Prison Initiative. By the time of his release, he was ready, willing, and able to take full advantage of a second chance at life. His plans are to impact change in the same community he once negatively impacted. His-story is still in the making!!


When he was 10 years-old, Alvarez struggled with his young identity. He loss his father to the federal penitentiary and subsequently federal deportation, and his mother’s modest living wasn’t enough for him. Raised in poverty, he desired luxury and a sense of independence, which urged him to begin selling drugs and running with a local street gang. At 15, he was expelled from high school and decided to embrace the streets full-time: toting weapons, committing armed-robberies, and warring with other groups. Popularly known as “Jae-O,” he developed a reputation. When he was 17 years-old, a feud between his crew and a rival group led to his Manslaughter and Gang Assault in the 1st degree arrest. Months after his eighteenth birthday, sentenced to 15 years in prison became his reality. “It was at that moment,” he says, “that he just knew he ruined his life. But thank God that my experiences woke me up because of who knows where I’d be today. Maybe dead or life in prison.” 




If you ask him what inspired his change, Jonathan will say “many things.” But he identifies his dark prison experiences and his formal education as the most influential. In his speaking engagements, he emphasizes the dog-eat-dog world and the sense of powerlessness one has in prison. His mentors made him realized that empowering the self happens through nurturing the mind. Encouraged to get an education, he accomplished the GED and earned a seat in the competitive Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) program. This photo captures him during a 2016 BPI  graduation ceremony at Woodbourne Correctional Facility in New York. He spoke to an audience of 400 people about overcoming his gripping fear of public speaking. In his view, his collegiate journey was the birth of his leadership. Studying social theory and history broadened his worldview, which enabled him to recognize the value of positive choice-making. He remained positive throughout the remainder of his sentence and dedicated his time to higher learning. As a result, he acquired the skillset and developed the vision to prepare a solid post-release plan to increase his chances of success.  


Today, Alvarez wears many labels, tasked with several missions. With anti-racist values, he works hard to abolish systemic-inequity by passionately advocating criminal justice reform and uplifting communities of color. To spearhead this mission, he serves as mentor and staff committee for the Yonkers My Brother’s Keeper initiative, touring public schools to educate students on the urban experience in contemporary America. He works in the Westchester County Department of Corrections (WCDOC). Valued as a Credible Messenger, he holds the Academic Outreach Coordinator position in the Youth Offender Program, providing counsel and educational support to 15 participants from the ages of 18 to 25. Simultaneously, he’s a Case Manager for Yonkers SNUG, an anti-violence and gang prevention organization working to reduce gun violence by mediating conflicts and rendering social services to individuals who are at a high-risk of engaging in criminal activities. Alvarez’s mission is his passion. “I want my community, he expresses, “to know that people like me are behind them.”