This last Friday, I got to be a part of a rather unique trip to Cleveland, Texas with my fellow MBA students. It was something that I never thought I would do (at least on purpose) as part of an MBA program – we went to prison! While there, we were able to work with a group of people who are trying to help inmates who will be getting out soon (within the next 1-3 years). The scope of the program was far greater than I knew before going on this trip, and it seems like a special organization.
One of the things that prisoners get as a result of this program is training in basic business concepts. Their lives when they get out of prison are significantly more difficult, as a result of their choices that resulted in them going to prison. However, the way that this program saw it, they wanted to graduate people from the program, as well as from prison, never to come back to such a place. In providing training in these basic business concepts, the hope was that they would be able to find the kind of job that would be willing to overlook some of their past indiscretions in favor of giving them an honest shot at an honest living.
As a person of faith, I cannot begin to tell you how much this seems to tell the kind of story that I would want to tell. This is the kind of story of second chances for people who have worked hard to make a change. Furthermore, I was reminded of all the times when I was young and stupid when I could have been in their shoes. There, but by the grace of God, go I…
Another item that is addressed in this program’s time with these inmates is that they all put together business plans, looking at profitability timelines, hidden costs, and all of the other things that I still have to learn. The way that they were already thinking about these things showed me that they were not too far behind me, if not already ahead. Some of them have been thinking about these things ever since submitting a 20-page essay-based application. Many applied, but only a few got in.
One of the specific tasks that we did was hear them pitch business ideas. For ten minutes at a time, 90 of us went face to face with a convicted felon who was just beginning to work on a business plan. They told us their ideas, we tried to use whatever expertise to help them focus (and sometimes reorient) their thoughts. Simple. Easy. Right?
I feel like I learned something so basic from them. I’ve heard all of the stories, felt fairly cynical towards prisoners. But when I got one-on-one, they were just like you and me. Some told me of wanting to provide for their families, some wanted to lift their families out of horrible backgrounds, all wanted a better life than the one they had chosen up to that point. The vast majority came from terrible family backgrounds. I couldn’t help but empathize with some of them. I’m really rooting for them, and I hope to see what they do and contribute to society.
The payoff? When they graduate, they get a certificate from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business. Same place I get my degree from. I’m proud of that.