How Atma Found Better Work: From Volunteer Peer Support Specialist to Full-Time Recovery Coach

Updated September 22, 2023

Atma Jodha Singh

Welcome to Better Work, a series of stories from workers who have navigated into jobs that have improved their lives as a whole. In a recent global survey conducted by Indeed of more than 22,500 people, 76% said they believe having better work results in a better life. These stories are part of Indeed’s greater work wellbeing initiative—our mission is to not only help people find jobs but also to connect people to work that fulfills and inspires them.

Atma Jodha Singh has a second chance at life, and he intends not to waste it. 

A Texas native, Atma currently works as a peer recovery coach with Communities for Recovery, an organization that specializes in assisting people recovering from substance abuse and co-occurring mental health issues. In his role, he helps support recovering individuals through peer-to-peer guidance and the practice of yoga, mindfulness and meditation.

He also leads a re-entry support group that works to reintegrate those formerly incarcerated back into society. He not only remains committed to developing a safe space for the justice-involved but also aims to provide the means necessary to motivate these individuals toward their utmost potential.

Reflecting on his personal journey and his path to finding better work, Atma could not be more appreciative of where his life has led him.

“My career journey has been amazing, actually. I am currently working in my dream job. But the road to getting here has definitely been difficult, and definitely not work that 25 years ago I would have ever dreamed myself doing,” he said.

“Having been formerly incarcerated, the job market is precarious, and unfortunately, you can be preyed upon in a lot of ways.”

Related: Job Search Guide for People with Criminal Records

The long road back to society

Serving almost 26 years in the American prison system, Atma had little to nothing to his name when he was released. Even more jarring: he had been convicted in the early 1990s and therefore not been at all exposed to the evolution of technology.

“When I went into the penitentiary, it was 1991. Coming out in 2016, the world had changed a lot. I had never seen a cell phone except at a distance or on TV, and I’d never been on the internet. I remember when I got out and my sister had come to see me, she had bought a phone for me and put it on her account and gave me this small tablet, and it was like, ‘Now what do I do?’” Atma told Indeed.

Despite being incredibly overwhelmed at first, Atma eventually learned to effectively use the new tools available to him to promote a better lifestyle for himself. Having learned to teach yoga and meditation while incarcerated—an invaluable set of skills he attributes to saving his life in prison—he was attracted to the classes and programs offered by Communities for Recovery as it was one of the few places he could go while on parole.

Following the suggestion of another instructor and due to the fact a volunteer position had opened, he began volunteering his time at Communities for Recovery to teach yoga and meditation.

“It was like doors were opening. In my case, I was looking for some way to give back or to pay it forward. In my opinion, the more we get isolated from society, the more harm it does. As someone with a felony, I’m not allowed to vote, so how do I feel a part of the society I’m now in unless I can find some way to invest in it and feel like I have a stake in it?

“I really prefer to teach people with what I call ‘messy lives’—I can relate to that and when somebody has a desire to climb out of that mess. I want to invest in others the way some people invested in me, and volunteering was a natural way to do that.

“It just made a difference for me. It made me happy. It made me feel fulfilled. It made me feel like my new life had value. It showed me that I had something to give.”

Related: Programs To Help Justice-Impacted Individuals Get Jobs

When paying it forward comes back around

Atma says that the path to finding a job was especially difficult because the conventional methods of applying for jobs had changed since he had been incarcerated. Without much of an idea of where to start in terms of creating a resume or preparing for interviews, he continued to take menial jobs here and there, but volunteering as a yoga and meditation teacher at various recovery and re-entry organizations continued to be a constant. 

A few years into his volunteer work, Atma happened across a job listing on Indeed for a peer support specialist—at Communities for Recovery. Though his status as a formerly incarcerated job seeker caused him to hesitate at first, his perseverance eventually paid off and earned him a full-time job.

“The idea of doing this full time, about it becoming a career—it was like being discovered. Someone who gets discovered to be a movie star or something like that,” he stated, completely awestruck as he reflected on his detailed recollection.

“It’s like ‘All of this, and you’re willing to pay me too?’ And I get to be a part of something bigger than myself, on another level. When you volunteer for a lot of years, you can either burn out or you can want more. I wanted more. I wanted to give more. I wanted to grow more.

“The opportunity to do this as a career provided that.”

Now, rather than focusing on the struggle of everyday life, Atma focuses on making the lives of everyone around him better every single day. Working with the unhoused population at Esperanza Community, a partner of Communities for Recovery that specializes in providing resources for homeless individuals, Atma begins his day by making his rounds within the community, visiting each of the tiny homes to check in with the people he has dedicated his life to uplifting. 

He even goes as far as checking in with those that have transitioned out before completing any paperwork or data entry assignments, then occasionally gets to check in with nearby homeless camps to provide necessities. 

After coming home to spend time with his partner and their pets, he dedicates some time to studying now that he’s back in school. Though his day can be incredibly exhausting and often full of heartbreaking stories and experiences, he couldn’t imagine his life without his work.

“There’s times you cry. There’s times you’re frustrated because you couldn’t do more—couldn’t fix something or help somebody else fix something. It’s definitely emotionally taxing, but it’s also incredibly joyful. For the toll it takes, it’s worth it. It’s fulfilling. The sense of fulfillment I get from this vastly overshadows any sorrow, frustration or emotional suffering that comes with working in this field.

“So learning how to take care of myself and allowing my community to take care of me, as well, is an important part of just learning how to do my job better to serve people. I almost can’t even call it a job. I think that’s almost a disservice to it. It’s my area of service. 

“As Alice Walker once said, ‘Activism is my rent for living on the planet.’ I think that doing this service, for me, is repaying the gift of even being given this life.”

Related: How To Go Back to School as an Adult (And Why You Should)

What we can learn from Atma’s story

Atma Jodha Singh absolutely loves his job—something that not many people these days can genuinely stay. When asked about what he hopes to achieve with his work, he says he wants to “change the world.”

“I want to change society. I want a world where people don’t need to be rescued from these things, where people don’t need to struggle to survive or be different. I want to be a safe space for people. I want to create a safe space,” he stated confidently.

“If I had to have a legacy or when I think about what I would want on my tombstone at the end of my life, I could think of no higher thing to be said about me than ‘he was a safe person’ or ‘he created safe spaces for all of us.’ Whatever people are dealing with, I’m gonna walk beside people on their journies.”

An advocate for better work policies and committed to “bringing hope & empowerment to the marginalized, underserved, disenfranchised, silenced and othered,” Atma also believes in employees holding employers accountable for providing a positive work environment that meets the needs of all workers. 

Believing in the symbiotic, reciprocal nature of positive relationships, he believes companies should promote meaningful work opportunities, encourage self-care and develop environments where people don’t feel the “need to escape from their job to recover.”

When asked about what advice he would give to justice-involved job seekers, Atma had a simple message: You are not your sentence, and everyone deserves a fair chance.

“Everything you have been through, even the parts that seem to be hardest, prepared you for today. Whether we realize it or not, we’re more than what we were. We’re more than the sum of our past.

“We’ve all been through things that can either break us and discourage us or, doing the work of healing and reflection, can prepare us for the next level.”

The information in this article is provided as a courtesy. Indeed is not a legal advisor and does not guarantee job interviews or offers. 

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