Allow me to share some inspiration for us all. Allow me to tell you about 12 hours I spent in a level-2 max security prison.
Do you think people deserve a second chance? No matter what? Cat Hoke of Defy Ventures does. She welcomes inmates with horrible past actions/mistakes to embrace the regret and remorse as catalysts of change, but to shed shame. Shame has no place in a productive today and tomorrow. Shed shame, forgive and accept yourself, and then do the hard, hard work of improvement and preparation. Good lessons for us all I think.
I spent a day with people who were in prison for some abhorrent past actions, including murder. I spent a day with people who were vibrant, positive, engaged, optimistic, warm, kind, hopeful, scared, and hesitant. Many of them do not believe themselves worthy of a second chance. But Cat Hoke helps them see that they do.
Imagine being one of these inmates. Imagine being locked in a level-2 security prison with a few thousand other inmates – many of whom, needless to say, are not all remorseful regretful and looking for positive change. Imagine the intimidation of wondering how to figure out your worklife after lockup. Imagine how hard it must be to figure out how to apply to jobs, to present yourself and interview, or to give an entrepreneurial pitch to a panel of Venture Capitalist sharks, or to simply converse freely with people who have been active in business and life for the 15 years you spent locked in a cell. Now, imagine not just overcoming the fear and intimidation but also actually doing the hard work to succeed in all these challenges. Staggering challenges. And yet, the men with whom I had the pleasure to spend a day with at Valley State Prison did just that. Wow! Respect.
I judged a business pitch competition along with some Vc’s and other volunteers from Silicon Valley. We didn’t just judge. We bared souls too. And there was even some dancing. But mostly we humanized each other.
And they did great. They stood in front of a table of professionals waiting to judge them and they stated their business value prop, their competitive edge, sales/marketing plans, financial numbers, and asked (always remember the ask!) for what they needed – mentoring, investment, etc. They took questions well. They took feedback even better. In short, they impressed. Despite all the anchors to their past, all the challenges of the present and all the intimidation of the future, they impressed. I am so excited for those that get released and how they will succeed (graduates of Cat’s program have just 3% recidivism rate!).
SO HERES THE THING. The future of work is hard for everyone – everyone. But those who take control of their own worklife, keep up with new training, education and skills, and self advocates for better work – Those people WILL succeed. To be in this successful group, you need to let go of emotional anchors from the past, find the energy to do the work in the present and push through any fear and intimidation of the future. If felons with horrible past mistakes can find the path to self-forgiveness, can’t we all? If convicts with no freedom and resources can figure out new skills, can’t we all? If people who don’t interact in free society at all can push through intimidation and fear of the future – and of rejection, cant we all?
Yes, we can!
Yes, I am inspired to do more in my own life on all three aspects – forgive self, find time today, less fear of tmw. So, yes, I do believe in second chances, Cat. And I am inspired by a group of men who all wish they could go back in time and change things. But they cannot. So they don’t waste any more time looking back or dragging shame forward. They focus on being better today. They do the hard work. They don’t get discouraged. That’s a pretty good formula for us all.
I went to prison to help others. I came out of prison being the person who was most helped.
POSTSCRIPT FOR EMPLOYERS: Our society rightly demands punishment for crimes. But, parole is meant to be parole – not another phase of a life sentence. These aren’t just felons and convicts – they are people. And people change. If you do not consider people with past convictions in your hiring process, please consider changing. Not because it helps the 22 million Americans who have past convictions – but because these men and women are an overlooked valuable resource for your talent acquisition strategy. Think of the stamina, strength and passion to overcome these challenges. Now think of harnessing that for your business…
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