As I close in on my fifth year at gap intelligence, I think about the reasons why working here continues to be increasingly rewarding. Why the luster and excitement never wear off. Why the opportunities continue to present themselves. The truth is, that the ‘why’ behind it all is quite simple. From the top down, we practice what we preach. Our culture fosters doing great things for each other, our clients, and our community. In fact, in addition to our company-wide philanthropic events, we encourage all employees to take a Values-Led Day, which is one (paid) day off each year to volunteer for a nonprofit organization or charity that inspires them to give back to the community and aligns with our company values.
After hearing about a nonprofit organization that specializes in putting together an entrepreneur program for prison inmates, I was intrigued enough to choose Defy Ventures as my selected Values-Led day in 2019. Defy Ventures’ mission is to give people with criminal backgrounds and histories an opportunity at a second chance by providing them with personal development, career assistance, and entrepreneurship training during incarceration. The goal is to prepare them for success upon release. The measured results from the program are staggering. According to their website, they report 7.2% recidivism rate for Defy Graduates vs. 45% of state prisoner arrests within the first year of release and 83% arrest over a nine year period from non-graduates (per Prison Legal News).
My Values-Led Day
My volunteer day at the California Institute for Women in Corona landed on the graduation day of latest 7-month program of inmates, who are given the more humanizing title of Entrepreneurs In Training (EITs). Fortunately, I went up to the prison with four other women from gap intelligence, which made the anticipation of the day more exciting than nervous. I will admit that the day brought about many emotions that I hadn’t encountered in years. I felt both profound sadness along with joy, extreme loss as well as hope for the future, pride for these women who worked so hard in the program, a personal connection with many, and a vulnerability from my end that kept me in tears off on and on throughout the day. What I never felt was unsafe. Oh, the irony of going to prison to feel safe!
I heard fantastic business ideas from women who had carefully thought out, planned, budgeted for, and projected positive cash flow results within three months. Each idea was something that they truly felt passionate about and most of them were extremely viable business ideas. As the volunteers offered suggestions and words of encouragement, the EIT’s showed nothing but gratitude and excitement over the possibility of improving their lives upon release.
The graduation ceremony itself was incredible. All of these women clapping for each other, offering support, love, and understanding. Family members hugging and giving speeches with pride. An entire room of people encouraging those around them that there ARE second chances in life. You do not need to be defined for the rest of your life by a mistake you made.
My goal was to enter and leave the facility with understanding and lack of judgement. What I took away from this enlightening experience was the beautiful human ability of forgiveness. These women found the strength in their missteps to come out on top and pave a different path foward. It is a lesson in how we should all be more forgiving of our own mistakes, whether large or small, to move forward with something more beneficial to ourselves and the world around us.
I write this blog knowing that I would volunteer with Defy Ventures again and would encourage others interested to do the same. We only get better when we do the work and learn from our missteps. I came away with a fresh perspective that despite your circumstances, we are all just people, most of whom are doing the best we can. Judgement does not help others improve or provide a supportive environment to change something in their lives. Offering assistance to those who have had fewer opportunities than many of us and a purpose to do well in life, is much more important.
Feeling inspired? Visit defyventures.org/.