Saturday, October 16, 2010

Criminals Become Entrepreneurs

Though it seems counter-intuitive to many, but completely aligned with the principles of the Lampstand Foundation, this is the centerpiece of the rehabilitative approach used by several other organizations—profiled by the Cleveland Plain Dealer—and by being congruent with the operating mantra of many professional criminals, will work, as this article in the Plain Dealer notes.

An excerpt.

“CLEVELAND, Ohio -- For nearly 10 years, Augustus Turner had a lot of time to ponder an American dream that he refused to believe was out of reach because of a big mistake and a permanent label.

“Turner was a prison inmate, hoping to run his own business after serving time for drug trafficking.

“He knew the odds weren't good. Although 97 percent of prisoners are eventually released, only 53 percent find work, and a far smaller share start their own businesses.

"What I learned from the streets is how to hustle," said Turner, 39. "You can dream. You can pray. It all starts there. But you have to actively make it happen."

“And he did. Today, Turner operates Masterpieces, a 10-year-old art studio, tattoo shop and silk-screening business on the West Side of Cleveland.

“Turner made his dream happen through sheer perseverance, but a growing movement across the country is trying to train released convicts to achieve success as entrepreneurs.

“Northeast Ohio might be lagging behind the trend. A few people here are trying to make a difference, but no coordinated effort has emerged to help parolees stay out of prison by starting businesses.

“More than 700,000 people will be released from the nation's state or federal prisons this year. About two-thirds will wind up back behind bars within two or three years.

“Government, private-sector officials and academics seem to agree that a job helps keep an ex-prisoner from returning to the penitentiary. And nobody disputes the challenges of becoming employed.

“For instance, studies in Milwaukee and New York found that a criminal record reduces employment opportunities by 50 percent for white people and 64 percent for black people -- at a time when jobs are already scarce.

"More than 60 percent of employers surveyed in the 2002 Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality (MCSUI) reported that they would "probably not" or "definitely not" hire applicants with criminal history records.

“The answer might be entrepreneurship, according to a 2007 national report from the Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "Venturing Beyond the Gates" is considered the most extensive recent study on successful re-entry to society through entrepreneurship.

“Only a handful of entrepreneur-loan programs exist for ex-prisoners. And communication is virtually nonexistent among them, according to the study.

“The most notable and biggest prison entrepreneurship program is in Texas, with offices in Houston and Dallas. Former Wall Street investor Catherine Rohr founded the program in 2004 after she toured a prison and decided that executives and inmates had more in common than most would think. Both know how to manage others, and even the most unsophisticated drug dealers understand business concepts like competition, profitability and proprietary sales channels, said David Joekel, executive relations manager at the prison program.

“Hardened criminals including murderers, thieves, drug dealers and gang leaders from more than 60 jails in Texas are invited to apply each year. Those selected are transferred to one correctional facility, where they learn entrepreneurial skills as well as strategies for finding a job. With private funding, MBA students as mentors, a highly selective admissions process and stringent pre- and post-release programs, ex-prisoners have started about 60 businesses in the program's six years.

“So far, 600 inmates have graduated. In the last two years, 98 percent of the graduates have found decent jobs within three months of release, with an average starting salary of $10.75 an hour. The program continues to gain momentum and interest from volunteers including business, government leaders and dozens of MBA programs, because of a return-to-prison rate of less than 10 percent for the graduates.”