Can ex-convicts make the best entrepreneurs? Some of you may think of them as dangerous, antisocial, and exhibit violent behavior,
but the reality is, you just watched too many movies.
Convicted felons, like everyone else, often want to change their lives for the better once they’ve served their time in prison. Most of them want to start a small business, which they can call, an achievement or a milestone to treasure in their life after coming out
from their cold, dark cells.
According to a 2016 report conducted by a UK-based entrepreneurship foundation, The Centre for Entrepreneurs (CFE), it found that 80% of prisoners are interested in starting their own business. This is compared to about 40% of the general population.
Here, many of their traits make them suitable for an entrepreneurial career such as having a strong urge for self-achievement, personal innovation, and the desire for independence.
Not just that, there is so much impact once these ex-prisoners enter entrepreneurship because the said report also reveals that turning prisoners into entrepreneurs could reduce the repeat offender rate from 46% to 14% nationally.
Yet with all those positive reviews, it is easy to say than do. They have a more difficult time with it since there’s still some prejudice against ex-felons. Because of the already existing stigma, former inmates may not have a social network, insurance, financial support, or any other sources they need to secure just the basic human needs like food, clothes, and shelter. Much worse, they also face numerous psychological challenges including shame, isolation, instability, and discrimination. They experience great difficulty in reconnecting with the community, considering the environment they live in for months, years, or decades.
Going back to the question, in an objective view, our answer would be, why not? It should be a big YES! No questions ask. Felons were already prepared for entrepreneurship even more than they could have prepared to earn an MBA. Their experiences in prison made them stronger, bolder, practical, and wise. There are lots of reasons why ex-convicts make the best entrepreneurs but to top it all off, here are some outstanding realities prison has instilled in them:
Ex-felons are experts in bootstrapping. Aside from prison riots, crappy living conditions, and the absence of the Internet, the average prisoner gets a rationed state diet of fewer than 1,300 calories per day (even a Sprinkle's cupcake has more calories) that is often skimpy, lacks nutrition, and entirely unappetizing. According to The Guardian, inmates are fed on less than $1.20 a day.
In some prisons impact Justice’s six-part report, Eating Behind Bars: Ending the Hidden Punishment of Food in Prison reveals that 94% reported that they did not have enough food to feel fully complete not only just that, but every inmate also gets the absolute bare minimum issue of commonly required items (e.g. 2-inch golf pencil, 2-inch toothbrush, state-issued toothpaste, a roll of toilet paper, a pair of pants, a pair of boxers, two pairs of socks, an undershirt, an over-shirt, and a small towel). Nothing else follows.
Their current situation has significantly pushed them to figure out to hustle to generate more resources. The inmates have to be relentlessly innovative and are forced to bootstrap their limited assets to maximize their resources. A “hustle” could mean anything from stenciling portraits onto bandanas, offering tattoos, selling photos of their exes (the most popular of all hustles), carving sculptures from soap, etc. As an inmate, you are forced to operate at your most optimal efficiency to leverage those already scarce.
Bootstrapping is a skill that when applied to entrepreneurship is very useful for any newly formed startup.
Ex-felons being comfortable with the unknown. The prison is filled with uncertainties facing complex scenarios. An inmate is constantly moved around the system, from unit to unit (sometimes prison to prison), and gets to mix with a net set of people --- so much unknown stops and experiences.
The only certainty for you will be ‘uncertain’. You try to figure out how to adapt to changing environments and changing scenarios. That’s why they learn to get comfortable with the unknown; allowing them to be more fluid with expectations and helping them roll with the startup punches.
The same goes when operating a startup business, every day is a new challenge, an obstacle you need to figure out to overcome. As they all say, “A new level, a new devil…” There’s no road map to guide you for doing prison time, and certainly no road map for building a startup.
Ex-felons are likely to have a healthy disregard for rules. When you compare an entrepreneur to an ex-convict, certainly, you’ll find more similarities than differences. Guess what’s the most notable trait among the two --- they all have a mutual, healthy disregard for rules.
For an entrepreneur, disregarding rules would be seen as the defining moment in his career, which is very healthy. He is pushing the envelope of what society dictates and building a business where one did not previously exist ever before.
While for an ex-convict, he took the rule-breaking thing too far. He disregarded the rules to the point that it made a permanent dark remark on his civilian record making him a huge threat to society, and so then he should be ordered to be put behind
But here’s the twist, if an inmate will be soon enlightened from his wrongdoings, decide to harness his ambition, and direct it toward a positive goal, then disregarding can be a powerful motivating force. It can lead to unparalleled success in the system once he is
Still, his new version of ‘disregard’ needs to be harnessed and used for the common good; otherwise, it will become the reason for that high rate of recidivism as previously described.