Kristen Daniel, an MBA student at Georgia Tech, has created a unique organization to inspire inmates to think about becoming entrepreneurs upon their release.
The Pentorship Program, a startup nonprofit, aims to pair inmates with entrepreneurs, who communicate by email and physical mail through the organization’s staff.
So-called pentees must have a GED or high school diploma or be enrolled in the GED program at their facility. They must have an interest in a specific business idea or invention and have no internal prison/jail gang affiliation. Pentors must be an entrepreneur, with an organization or business of any size that has been in existence for at least 18 months. They must have no prior convictions for illegal business activity and be committed to responding to their inmate pentee in a timely manner.
Daniel first became interested in prisons and prisoners her senior year in college when she wrote a paper about privatizing the prison industry. After two years of work following college, she took off on a long journey teaching English in Chile and Korea. During her travels she saw endless examples of entrepreneurship among families who had little access to education and were economically disadvantaged but had the drive to start businesses, no matter how small.
Upon her return a friend was arrested on drug charges. Daniel told him about her plans to start an organization to encourage inmates to think about entrepreneurship, and he told his cellmates what she was doing. They began asking questions about the types of business they wanted to start after their release, and The Pentorship Program was born.
The going has been a bit slow during the organization’s first year-plus, but Daniel is laying the foundation to expand the program’s operations. The Georgia Department of Corrections is interested but was going through organizational changes. “Now that they have more job placement programs in place, they want me to come and do a rollout of the program,” she says.
She also is looking for an entrepreneurship organization to partner with, possibly SCORE, which has been doing email mentoring for a long time and has started a program for veterans. She also hopes to expand it nationally and that The Pentorship Program will serve as a model that others can adopt for their own areas.
In the meantime, her work progresses in Georgia, where one out of 13 citizens is incarcerated, on parole or on probation. And because it’s so difficult for ex-offenders to gain employment, she believes that entrepreneurship is something that those who have an interest should consider.
As she says on her website, “Entrepreneurship is the great equalizer that, if pursued correctly, allows individuals the opportunity to pursue the American dream regardless of race, gender, socio-economic background and past criminal history.”
It’s a path that many, with encouragement from programs like hers, may choose to follow. For more information on The Pentorship Program, visit www.thepentorship.org.