TEDxBoston – Laura Winig – From Offender to Entrepeneur


Translator: Capa Girl
Reviewer: Diba Szamosi What do you think of, when I say the word “Felon”? This? Ok. Of the 2.3 million people, who are incarcerated in the United States right now, how many are going to be eventually released? Guesses — 90%? No. 95? 95. Most people who are incarcerated for felonies, are coming home to our communities
— eventually, but soon. Like him, we’ll call him John. John’s a 25-year-old high school drop-out, he supports his drug addicted mother, with a street business selling narcotics. Actually now, he is in prison for having sold those narcotics. 25% of the prison population is very much like John. Lisa is also going to be a returning citizen. Lisa is a single mother with two children. She’s got a bachelor’s degree,
and a career as a bank teller. About the 29% of the prison population is very much like her, incarcerated for property crimes, drunk driving offenses, white collar crimes. They are very different but they share a common future. They’re coming home, they’re coming home next year. And they have no idea how they are
going to support themselves and their families, because they can’t
go back to their old jobs. John wants to lead a straight life. Lisa too, she wants her old job back, her old life back, but she can never work in a bank again,
with her criminal conviction. One of them is going to commit a crime, and go back to prison and 4 out of 10 do. In fact in some states, 68% go back. Why? Because their criminal history is a barrier to employment. Are you lining up to hire people with criminal histories? You are not. 93% of employers, run a criminal background check. If you’re a human resource manager, do you take a chance and hire John and Lisa? Most of you say “No.” But what does that mean for them? Well — People who can’t find a job after they leave prison are four times more likely to commit a crime. So if we can’t get folks working again,
we can’t stop that revolving door. But, how do we do that if employers won’t hire them? Well, who has a vested interest in hiring them? Who intimately understands that they are ready for a second chance for a straight life? They do! So, maybe they can create their own jobs. Dave Dahl did. Dave was incarcerated for 13 years, and now he runs a bakery. One third of Dave’s employees were formally incarcerated. He pays it forward by hiring them. And he is not the only one. I’m gonna take a break and let you look at this. Franklin Deese, runs a tax preparation service, he’s also the Mayor of Marshville, North Carolina. Vicky Stringer, runs a 5 million dollars publishing company. Randy Course is a motivational speaker, actually I’ve got a couple of motivational speakers here. These entrepreneurs are clearly exceptional, but do they have to be? Len Schlesinger runs the number one entrepreneurship program in the country, and what he says is that entrepreneurs are made, not born. So we thought, let’s make some. And who’s we? A team of small business owners, who go into prison and teach entrepreneurship to people who are just about to be released from prison. First time I went to prison, I was scared to death and I thought, for sure I was on fool’s errand but it turned out that my students were incredibly determined and motivated. They know what awaits them when they’re released. And the other thing I found out, that was a surprise to me, is many of them have already run small businesses, illegal small businesses. (Laughter) But they understood pricing, inventory management, marketing, succession planning — (Laughter) (Applause) It’s a piece of cake. So I realized what we really needed to do is help them repurpose their street skills. So when they came out, they can run
legal small businesses. So, how do we do that? What’s our secret sauce? We ask ourselves: What do they do at the top business schools? Luckily I worked at Harvard Business School, so I know the answer to that. Students at Harvard Business School, and many of the top business schools, learn by studying the successes and the failures of those they hope one day call peers. So we thought if it’s good enough
for Harvard’s Business School, it’s good enough for prison. So what did we do? We interviewed people who had launched successful businesses after they left prison. And we bring their stories, their advice, their wisdom into our classrooms so that our students go to school on the ones who made it. So what do they learn? Well, this talk wouldn’t be complete
— because I am Harvard — unless there’s a framework, so here comes the framework. They learn “the four Cs” to being successfully self-employed. But what they learn is that they don’t need an MBA, and it’s not about finding venture capital, and it isn’t about catching a lucky break. All the men and women that we encountered that went from offender to entrepreneur mastered “the four C’s” and created income statements, very important. Now, some of you are writing me off as a bleeding heart and this piece is for you — Let’s say for example you have 47,000 dollars to invest, by coincidence that’s what it cost to incarcerate one person in a state of Massachusetts for one year. Would you prefer to invest in a year of incarceration or, for a fraction of that, would you prefer to invest minting a brand new tax-paying entrepreneur? Whether we like it or not 650,000 people are going to be released from prison next year. That’s about the size of the population of Boston. If we keep doing what we doing, 260,000 of them will go right back in, and that will cost you, the taxpayer, 12 billion dollars — first year. So, do we just wish them luck, hope for the best and then re-incarcerated them when they commit a crime because they can’t find a job? Or could we possibly think about the wisdom of this old proverb? Thank you. (Applause)

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