Entrepreneurship can empower formerly incarcerated people to chart a new course
In a justice system that impedes educational and career success and future financial stability, George Halfkenny’s story relayed in the Feb. 12 Ideas section is unfortunately one of many (“I’ve done my time. I want to work. Why will no one hire me?”). As Black, Latino, and Indigenous men are disproportionately affected by our justice model, this is not only an education equity issue. It’s also a racial justice issue.
A key facet of Halfkenny’s story is that, despite encountering repeated setbacks, he has cofounded a nonprofit devoted to restorative justice.
During my time as president and CEO of the Commonwealth Corporation, the quasipublic agency that fosters workforce equity in Massachusetts, I had the privilege of running a transformational program teaching incarcerated youth entrepreneurial skills, allowing them to build and run a business while serving their sentences. Each entrepreneur pursued their own interests: One young man started a footwear refurbishing business; another ran a culinary company. Not only did this set them up with essential life skills and business knowledge, but it also provided them with a head start while incarcerated and helped create a foundation for future financial success.
At my current organization, the education nonprofit Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, we have led similar programs on Rikers Island and in Louisiana, Nebraska, Illinois, and Ohio. These programs have proved effective not only in building entrepreneurial skills and motivating young people to take charge of their futures but also in creating a pathway to economic security that could reduce the likelihood of reincarceration.
There are many building blocks that will propel us toward a more equitable justice system. We can begin by implementing programs like ours throughout the country.
We have to do better in giving people a second chance
As I read George Halfkenny’s report on his attempts to get a job and establish a career, I could only admire his determination, advocacy, and hard work. His experience is a travesty of justice. Our society has worked to harm Halfkenny and keep him from success since he was 8, if not before.
I hope that someone reads his story and offers him a job. But that would not change the lives of so many like Halfkenny whose criminal records keep them from a second chance or even a place to live. Our society must change the laws that keep so many down.
George Halfkenny’s piece in last Sunday’s Globe was one of the most powerful and important articles I’ve ever read. The system has failed him since he was a child and continues to do so. There has to be a way for society, for all of us, to do better by people who’ve done time in prison and have become good citizens.