In Mississippi, over 32 percent of prisoners return to life behind bars.
It can be attributed a life of patterns. Commit crime to make a buck or even to survive, get busted, go to prison, develop no skills, then get out just to jump right back into the pattern.
But Defy Ventures, a program aimed at assisting and educating prisoners on everything from basic life skills to launching a business, aims to change that pattern—and so far they’ve done it.
“We have a 3.2 percent recidivism rate,” said Catherine Hoke, CEO of Defy Ventures. “Nationally, 76.6 percent come back to prison 5 years after release.”
Hoke said that while men and women are incarcerated, they undergo training and education for six months to a year, and following release, they continue education for a year or two years, depending on the individual.
“After they get out.. we provide post-release support,” said Hoke.
Completion of the program is noted with an MBA from Baylor University.
Some of the prisoners become business owners upon release, because the program allows them to pitch their business ideas to investors.
“So if you’ve seen the show ‘Shark Tank,’ we run shark tanks in and outside the prisons,” said Hoke. “We bring in top CEOs and investors… even if they don’t become entrepreneurs upon release, these skills still help to prepare them.”
For Jason Leng, the program moved him from teenaged gang member to lucrative CEO.
“Joining that gang earned me a 12 year sentence for a felony. I committed aggravated robbery,” said Leng. “Going to prison allowed me to get my life straight and get back on track.”
Leng completed the program, at within six months of release, his life looked completely different than when he was arrested.
“I was making $45 an hour, six months out of prison, doing a 3D architectural business, after having not touched a computer for three years,” said Leng.
He later started two more companies through Defy Ventures.
Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Pelecia Hall said that this success story, and many others, led her to believe in what Defy Ventures could do for Mississippi.
The program will be offered at the Mississippi Department of Corrections Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County.