Brian Hamilton founded Inmates to Entrepreneurs and works alongside Lawrence Carpenter, who serves as the Chairman of the program board.
Inmates to Entrepreneurs was created to provide an opportunity to those judicially involved and struggle to find employment. When individuals get released from incarceration, employment opportunities are scarce. The stigma placed on individuals with a criminal background adds to the systemic discrimination within the job market. Most employers lead themselves to believe that people who do have a past within the legal system are high risk and less trustworthy. The lack of forgiveness and compassion from employers causes a continuous cycle of economic insecurity. This can lead individuals to return to illegal activities to facilitate some source of income. Hamilton and Carpenter both recognized the need for second chance opportunities for those formally incarcerated. Inmates to Entrepreneurs provides them with the necessary tools and advice to create a business on their own merits.
Our correspondent Rebecca Eugene spoke with both Hamilton and Carpenter regarding the program and the changes made in the lives of multiple individuals. They have both pulled from their own experiences and inspirations to grow the program to where it is today. ABC is currently airing the series, “Free Enterprise,” which focuses, on the work Hamilton and Carpenter are doing with Inmates to Entrepreneurs.
The Knockturnal: What inspired you to create and get involved with Inmates to Entrepreneurs?
Brian Hamilton: There was a clear problem that needed to be solved. Reverend Harris, my great friend, was also an inspiration. Reverend Harris and I started the program. He is a black Baptist minister from Oxford, North Carolina, and I am a white Irish Catholic guy from Connecticut. But, it was peanut butter and jelly from the beginning. I loved and still love Rev and his love for people.
Lawrence Carpenter: I got involved with Inmates to Entrepreneurs after seeing Brian on the news teaching guys who were incarcerated how to start a business. Being formerly incarcerated myself, my passion has always been to serve, teach and be an example of change and hope.
The Knockturnal: With all of the changes being made in individual’s lives within the program. What are the goal(s) you would like to reach in the next 5 years with Inmates to Entrepreneurs?
Brian Hamilton: Our goal is to reach every person in North America who has been judicially involved.
Lawrence Carpenter: The five-year goal that I would like to see for the program is to reach and teach more individuals, see more successful business owners created from the program, and lower the recidivism rate.
The Knockturnal: Can you describe the process of how inmate(s) can join the program? How does the program help them create business ideas and strategies?
Brian Hamilton: People with criminal records can learn more about the program and sign up for our free classes on either one of our websites – inmatestoentrepreneurs.org or brianhamilton.org. We teach people how to fish – how to start low capital businesses. The courses are very practical and very simple. They’re only taught by entrepreneurs who have done it—who have fished themselves. We work hard to keep do-gooders and phony-balonies out of teaching our program. People we work with know who is real—and who is not. Credibility is huge.
Lawrence Carpenter: Through the program, we teach business 101, from how to start, to marketing and when it is time to hire employees, all the way to making sure you pay Uncle Sam. Some people are paying thousands of dollars to universities for what we are offering for free.
The Knockturnal: Why do you think employers are reluctant to hire people who were formerly incarcerated?
Brian Hamilton: Because employers take great risk in hiring any person. In complicated problems, it is easy (and lazy) to create a bogeyman. The system itself is the problem, not just employers.
Lawrence Carpenter: We are a society of people who are very unforgiving. Trust becomes an issue for some employers. It is important that those who are coming home from incarceration are willing to make the necessary changes to position themselves for opportunity. It is a shared responsibility that we understand that no one is perfect, and at some point in life, we all seek forgiveness and mercy.
The Knockturnal: What steps do you believe employers should take when considering someone who has been judicially involved?
Brian Hamilton: Well, do the right thing. We need legislation, but this may take forever. Politicians are generally not doers. They like talking. They, unfortunately, are not good at getting things done. So, we as citizens cannot wait around.
Lawrence Carpenter: My advice to employers on hiring judicially involved people would be to still follow company protocols on hiring but be willing to have compassion for those who are really attempting to change.
The Knockturnal: How much of a role does society play in how it perceives formerly incarcerated individuals? Do you think this perception hinders them from pursuing certain opportunities?
Brian Hamilton: Like racism or any other issue, it all comes down to each person’s individual heart.
Lawrence Carpenter: Society plays a major role in how judicially involved people are viewed. Just because someone made mistakes in life, does not mean they are a bad person. We have all done something in life that could have led to a criminal record. The difference is everyone did not get caught. We have a society of people who think they are above those who have been caught for their mistakes.
The Knockturnal: Do you think this perception hinders them from pursuing certain opportunities?
Brian Hamilton: Yes, absolutely. But, what do you do about it? You can sit around and feel bad and wait for help, or you can go out and do the best you can with your life. The great truth is that many people were born with great disadvantages. But, what do you do about it?
The Knockturnal: What advice can you give to people who have been incarcerated who feel like second chance opportunities are limited?
Brian Hamilton: Don’t give up. Hang on. Go around the system. Don’t wait for employers or anyone else. Take action.
Lawrence Carpenter: My advice for the formally incarcerated would be to change the old way of thinking, position yourself through learning new things and being in tune with what is going on in the world, and lastly, fight like your life depends on it because it really does!