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Former Prisoners Find Career Success and Help Others to Achieve the Same

Ex-felons are gaining more opportunities to rebuild their lives after release without having the stigma of incarceration hanging over their heads. With such measures as Ban the Box, Second Chance Employment, and self-startups, people with criminal convictions are getting a leg up on employment, a major factor in recidivism reduction.

The ABA Journal highlighted three such individuals in its July 2019 edition. The first, David Figueroa, grew up on the streets of Chicago. After two stints in prison, Figueroa decided he wanted something different. At age 29 he began work at a construction site. He also took several life skills classes being offered at a community-based organization. From there, he pooled his savings and in 2014 started his own business - Second Renovations.

Figueroa says he makes an effort to hire convicted felons. He starts them off at $12 an hour and provides them with power tools necessary for the job. He teaches construction skills to his employees and helps them to develop good work habits. “I’m really hard on my guys for the first 30 days because a lot of them don’t have any work experience,” he said. “Sometimes it’s very hard to get these guys to commit and understand this is not a game.”

Teresa Hodge was already an entrepreneur and had a supportive family before incarceration. She was arrested for mail fraud and money laundering and spent six years at Alderson Federal Prison Camp. She said the most memorable thing she saw were so many women returning to prison, their high hopes of success after release dimmed by the hardships they faced. With the help of daughter Laurin (a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University), they created Mission: Launch, Inc., a nonprofit organization geared at teaching recently released women financial literacy, technology, and entrepreneurship. Started in 2012, it has since expanded to include men and to teach leadership training and help acquiring capital for new businesses.

Marcus Bullock, after spending seven years in prison for carjacking and weapons’ charges, got out and ultimately started Flikshop. Understanding that one of the highlights of a prisoner’s day was getting something at mail call, and realizing that social media was replacing written correspondence, Flikshop allowed family and friends to convert social media snapshots into postcards that were then mailed to correctional facilities across the country.

Bullock has attracted investors such as justice reform advocate John Legend’s Unlocked Futures. His success has landed him in such magazines as The Washington Post and Forbes, as well as being featured on NPR. Bullock says the majority of his employees have been incarcerated. He prides himself on giving ex-offenders a second chance. Moreover, he visits prisons to teach entrepreneurship, savings and finance.

Forbes magazine has featured Dave Dahl and Darrell Jobe in separate stories. Dahl got out of prison and helped his brother to expand their father’s bakery. He created a new line of non-GMO, organic bread called Dave’s Killer Bread, which was so successful that it is now offered in all 50 states and Canada. He also started the Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation, which focuses on expanding employment opportunities for convicted felons and educating businesses on why hiring ex-offenders is good practice.

Jobe, another convicted felon, developed a cost-comparable plant fiber packaging product that could replace environmentally hazardous polystyrene foam. His company, Vericool, is so successful that he had $40 million in backlogged orders.

Both Dahl and Jobe say that at least one-quarter of their employees have spent time in prison. Jobe says for him it is personal. “Your future shouldn’t be based on your past,” he stated.