Jail picGenerally, it’s a good idea to stay out of prison. But as a socially conscious entrepreneur, a portion of my company’s time and revenues are committed to improving the human condition. In response to this “calling” I go inside at least once a week as a volunteer Assimilation Coach sponsored by a faith-based organization with an empirical goal of helping to reduce the ex-offender recidivism rate. While inside, I lead inmates thru a course based on the book “A Purpose-Driven Life” by Rick Warren and interact with a community of male inmates who are incarcerated in a maximum security correctional facility to address their hurts, habits, and hang-ups BEFORE they return to society.

So you may be asking “What’s this got to do with business, sales, or anything that may matter to me?” Here’s some food for thought:

  • An ex-offender I never met before, positively impacted my business. Four  years ago, I stopped to fill my gas tank after visiting Portsmouth, Virginia and a self-professed, former convict informed me that my left-front headlight had blown out. He proceeded to give me “country” directions (a left turn after crossing the railroad tracks) to an AutoZone where his cousin was the manager, and then used my cell-phone to call him at 8:45PM to inform him I was coming for a halogen bulb for my car. I arrived at AutoZone after the store closed, but the store manager opened up, and in the dark, in 15-degree weather, in an empty parking lot, he installed the bulb… for free.  I then drove 4.5 hours up I-95 and the next morning, I completed a presentation and interviews that netted $110k in business/sales revenue in 12 months.
  • Ex-Offenders often become entrepreneurs and business owners out of necessity because they have difficulty securing a decent-paying job in a job market that discriminates against ex-offenders, and they LOVE freedom. As a business owner or sales professional, you may actually be competing with an ex-offender and you don’t know it; they may be buying your products and services, and you may not know it; many are highly motivated because they’re proud of their transformation and know what “the bottom” looks like.
  • Ex-Offenders are getting out of jail. They won’t always be incarcerated. Some forget that these men are someone’s brother, husband, father, son, uncle, cousin, or your former classmate. We should not forget their offense against society and the necessity to pay the penalty for causing harm. However, these are people we will be living and working with, thus, they cannot be ignored.

The net: whether in business or in life, you may not be able to discern the life-path of everyone you interact with, nor ascertain or even care to know their “story.”  Still, it’s probably wise to treat everyone you encounter with a measure of dignity and respect, irrespective of their current condition or socio-economic status as life is strange. You or someone you know could become one of “those people.” The next time you sit down to map out your business plans or sales strategy ask yourself this: “How can I help improve the human condition?”

Chris Bell 3rd