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Nebraska female inmates enroll in entrepreneurship program

February 25, 2018

YORK, Neb. (AP) — Entrepreneurship development for prison inmates? Really? Yes, really.

Defy Ventures is offering its entrepreneurship, employment and character development training program at Nebraska Correctional Center for Women for the first time.

Twenty-seven women signed up to begin NCCW’s first-ever cycle of the rigorous, 6-7 month course of study that covers the spectrum from firm handshakes with direct eye contact to creating a business idea and plan to etiquette training and details such as how to make a meaningful apology, the York News-Times reported.

The onsite, beginning-to-end director in York is Maria Moreno who laid out the what, where, when and how of the process to completion. Each graduate will receive a coveted Career Readiness Certificate from Baylor University to take with her upon release and re-entry into society.

Defy’s first year in Nebraska took the program to three facilities for men: Omaha Correctional Center, Tecumseh Correction Institution and the Nebraska State Penitentiary.

In that inaugural year in Nebraska, 108 Baylor University accreditations were awarded.

Nationally, Defy graduates have a 95 percent employment rate and a recidivism rate below 5 percent. In all the organization has financed and incubated more than 100 startups founded by its graduates nationwide.

Following introductions and presentation of Defy details interspersed with group activities to get everyone revved up and positive, the women formed into two lines facing each other in the Chapel to welcome some 40 volunteers from business, industry and other disciplines who filled a bus that came from Omaha.

The cheering for the volunteers was raucous upon their arrival to accompaniment of pounding rock music. A meet-and-greet followed as individual volunteers and the women they came to support got acquainted.

Before the arrival of the volunteers, however, Nebraska Defy Ventures CEO Jeremy Bouman earned several rounds of applause for what he had to say.

One ovation came when he said, “I have found that the greatest way to stay out of prison is a job.”

Inmates, he said, “Are all entrepreneurs” because “they have had to hustle from a young age.”

He quoted statistics that show 30 percent of 23-year-olds have a criminal history. “Seventy-six percent” of people “who get out (of prison) are back in five years.”

His audience erupted again when Bouman said, “What if you were only known for the worst thing you’ve ever done? We don’t care about that. We don’t care where you’ve been, we care where you are going.”

Incarcerated persons, he explained, are not inmates in the Defy world; they become EITs (Entrepreneurs In Training). EITs are what they are and how they’re treated in Defy’s ‘CEO of Your New Life’ program.

“You are all going to become the CEO of your own life,” Bauman said to applause.

“Entrepreneurship,” he said, “is a gift if you have that skill set. “It’s a skill set the marketplace needs.”

He told the women to expect “books that look like door stoppers that you’re going to work through. There’s lots of rigor,” he said. “It’s a big reward but it’s going to be a lot of work.”

Nationally, Defy boasts some 4,400 volunteers. The number of unique volunteers who stepped up in Nebraska’s first year was 250.

“Many have come back” repeatedly, said Bouman. Their dedication is despite the fact “many have never been in a prison before.”

The impact of the partnership between the volunteers and the Defy organization itself speaks volumes. In Nebraska’s first year “100 percent (of men) who completed the program have gotten jobs,” Bouman said, then added the qualifier, “That first job is a low bar, a place to begin.”

He said 170 businesses in the U.S. “have been formed by people with felony convictions” and “people with felony backgrounds provide jobs for their (felon) peers.”

Moreno said Defy will meet three times a week in York.

“This is a very self-driven program,” she said. Moreno made it clear she will not constantly monitor and motivate. That task falls entirely to participants.

“Don’t fall behind,” she cautioned. “It’s very hard to catch up.

“You never know what you’re going to learn” from the videos, workbooks and each other, she said. “You never know when you’re going to use some of the things you’re going to learn here.”

Said Bouman, “We are with you here, but when the rubber meets the road we’ll be with you when you get out.

“We want you to be able to parent your kids not from behind bars; we want you to parent your kids in the community.

“We don’t want you to come back here,” he concluded to a standing ovation.

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Information from: York News-Times, http://www.yorknewstimes.com

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