Richard Bronson, the founder of 70millionjobs.com, has created the Commissary Club, a new free social network for people who have been incarcerated. And, if one of our blog readers is any indication, it has the potential to change a lot of lives.
Her name is Myra Leuminov, and she describes herself “as enthusiastic, eager to learn, constantly evolving, excited for what’s to come, a sharp learner, and someone with very tough skin who’s been through hell and back in prison!”
After recently being released from eight years in prison in L.A., Myra discovered the Commissary Club through a posting on a Chicago job search site for people with felonies. She joined and soon was able to take advantage of all it has to offer.
Through the site’s jobs group she found a position as a business analyst at a tech company in Los Angeles. It also helped her land her first apartment.
Commissary Club connects formerly incarcerated members
In addition, the network became a social outlet. “I used Commissary Club to meet folks with a similar background to mine. I made lots of great connections with my fellow brothers and sisters who served time like me,” she says. “And, I’ve also gotten lots of help from fellow ex-cons like myself. Ex-cons who have been out longer than I have gave me refreshing advice on how I can navigate life in L.A. as an ex-con. The Commissary Club has changed life as I know it. I couldn’t imagine life without it.”
That, exactly, is what entrepreneur Richard Bronson had in mind when he launched the Commissary Club in November. He also did it to keep the business he created – 70millionjobs.com – going.
Bronson founded 70millionjobs.com, a job search engine for people who have been incarcerated, about four years ago after serving 22 months in a federal prison camp for securities fraud. Earlier in his career he worked for Stratton Oakmont, the brokerage firm immortalized in the film The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Effects of coronavirus spurred new venture
“We were having a great deal of success with 70millionjobs.com, which is a for-profit business. We were placing thousands of people, but the coronavirus had other plans for us,” he says.
“Our people were working at warehouses and other places that were the first to shut down. Overnight our business went to virtually zero. We’d either have to pack it in or go to Plan B. Plan B was to build a social network for the 70 million Americans with records and their families and friends.” And that’s exactly what he did.
Before setting up the social network, Bronson did a lot of testing on Facebook and interviewing of people who’d been incarcerated. “We confirmed what we knew — that there are two things people in this population are lacking. The first is employment. The other is community,” he says.
“My observation, and I can speak from personal experience, folks with records out of a desire to stay off of the radar live in a very solitary way and don’t connect very much ….. Do they deserve a life sentence? Is that fair? My feeling is that if we could bring them into one room we could galvanize the strength of these 70 million people (the number of people with records in the U.S.)”
And Commissary Club is the result. It’s named for the prison commissary, where people wait in line to buy things, socialize and just hang out. The advantage of this social network is that people can go somewhere where everyone has been incarcerated.
Site offers Facebook-type feed and common interest groups
Right now it has a user feed like Facebook. It has groups with themes like employment and fitness. Users can create their own rooms to talk about whatever they’re interested in.
One of the most important elements is a job search engine, which will take over what previously was 70millionjobs.com.
Bronson plans to introduce video classrooms where those who are interested can learn things like cooking, or fitness or finance. And he hopes these will foster a sense of community, as well.
The site is building traction, with referrals from the hundreds of different organizations – nonprofits, parole and probation, the city of Los Angeles, SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management) and many others – that have partnered with 70millionjobs.com.
“We’ve amassed a huge community of more than 1 million people with records through the organizations we have partnerships with,” Bronson says.
A network of mentors
Through the Commissary Club, Bronson has created a network of mentors. “A lot of people are looking for someone they can trust to help them with a variety of different challenges they’re facing. They need someone they can talk to,” he says. “There are people who are entrepreneurial and want to start a business. We have people in our community who want to provide that sort of one-on-one help. Some of them have a record and have had success. And then we have others who don’t have a record but just want to help.”
Another venture is a social gathering called Tha: Yard: Weekly Hangout. Bronson works with former NBA player Seth Sundberg and rapper and entrepreneur Divine to create the weekly event. They invite speakers who have done prison time to join them and virtually hang out with the Commissary Club members. And it’s just one more way that Bronson and his team are creating community among those who desperately need it.