Think of the biggest mistake you’ve made in your life thus far. Now imagine that this mistake was against the law. Finally, imagine that because it was against the law, no one ever considered you as a human with value or trustworthy enough to hold a job, even after you’ve served your time and made restitution. How would you survive? How would you move on from your mistake? You wouldn’t be able to. That is what it is often like for the over 200,000 women incarcerated today.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, 81,000 women are released from prison each year. The majority of which had a pathway to incarceration due to economic challenges, abuse as a child and abuse from their partners as adults. A critical element to ensuring they are able to reenter society after serving their time comes down to their employment options.
Research shows that the root cause of women leaving prison and eventually returning is a lack or absence of communication. Incarcerated individuals are cut off from meaningful relationships, professional networks and opportunities to learn and improve their lives and grow into rewarding careers, all of which provide the social capital needed for a successful reentry back into society. This is where businesses have a critical opportunity and can help to empower incarcerated women with access to communications, empathy and education for the betterment of communities, the global workforce and society overall.
Televerde is a sales and marketing company that works with other tech companies to provide training and employment for currently and formerly incarcerated women. They have partnered with Securus Technologies, a communications company that runs a fully web-based visual communication system that allows friends, family members, attorneys, and public officials to schedule and participate in video sessions with an incarcerated individual – from anywhere with internet access using the free Securus app, computer or tablet. that connects family and friends to the incarcerated.
Together they’ve made it their mission to help incarcerated women successfully transition out of prison into society. They do this by working with correctional facilities to train and hire women currently serving time to work as part of the call center’s customer service team. Their mission is to invest in these women through education and employment so they are set up for success which benefits everyone as a community.
A critical success factor for programs like this is to have strict criteria to participate in the program. “Our program is highly competitive, a prized position for the women. It’s not just the wage they receive but the experience of someone investing in them,” shared Joanna Acocella, VP of corporate affairs at Securus Technologies. This experience was corroborated by Marlena, a program graduate. She shared that the women worked hard for the privilege of being part of such an important opportunity. “Once in, we were part of this supportive community. The women are very supportive of each other. Imagine have coworkers who support you and always have your back,” expressed Marlena.
The goal is to set the women up to be successful when re-entering into society. The entire program is set up to help women go beyond what their life may have been when they were incarcerated. The training gives them skills that set them up for jobs in office settings. Most women find themselves in debt due to court penalties and only able to get a job in a minimum wage setting. This can create similar pathways as the ones that lead them to break the law in the first place.
With Televerde and Sercurus Technologies, they not only get paid a market wage but also have the opportunity to reenter the world with $5-10k in savings and possibly a job from day one. This can include a job directly with Securus. Often, the women need to be able to pay off debts and this ensures the debt they carry doesn’t bury them and put them in desperate situations.
The training is more than just job skills. “The first month of training, you get all of these skill sets and business acumen. It opens up a whole new world. That world consists of self-confidence and self-esteem,” shared Marlena. The training sets you up to be able to have business conversations with C-Suite executives. It brings a sense of value to the person’s view of themselves and what they can offer the world.
This is an investment. “This is not a money saver for us at all but it’s proving these folks are worthy of our time,” emphasized Acocella. “But the return on that investment equals better customer service statistics like better call times, less hold times and customer experience due to the level of empathy the women possess and demonstrate to the families calling into the call center.”
The women benefit and so does society. The national average for women that exit the penal system and return is 68%. For the participants of the Televerde and Securus Technologies program, that number drops to 5.4%. “Our success comes from the high-quality training we provide but also the care and support we provide. We help them overcome that sense of victimhood and foster a feeling of empowerment,” emphasized Acocella.
It means so much more to the individual. Marlena shared that not only did the program help her get gainful employment upon release, but also the positive impact on her sense of self was immeasurable. She also experienced having her family reconnect with her as they saw her work towards a better life and have something such as her job to show for it.
It’s important to give second chances. “Televerde and Securus Technologies provided me with a whole new level of capabilities. They taught us how to do resumes, provided business focused classes and fostered a hunger in me for continuing education. I began to feel what I was worth,” Marlena shared. “Televerde gave me a second chance. I’ve taken it and ran with a checkered flag to take advantage of it and do better.”
This is an opportunity to check our bias and be part of someone’s second chance. “When I was applying for jobs, I tried at a few more well-known companies. Many wouldn’t even give me a chance. The stigma followed me everywhere. However, when I finally met with a company that was open to hiring me, it was a critical point in my life. The executive hiring me asked if I was serious about starting a new life. He believed me when I said yes. He took a chance on me and I made sure he didn’t regret it.”
What can you do? If you are a hiring manager or recruiter, consider going beyond the checked box on an application. How do we get better at looking at the person as a whole. What have they done to invest in themselves? What could you and your organization do to contribute to building a community where there’s room for someone to rehabilitate and be a positive contributor to society as a whole.