I’m an entrepreneur, and I believe in giving ex-felons a second chance
If you’d told me 15 years ago today I’d be leading and running a fast-growing company, I would’ve called you crazy.
I experienced, shall we say, a pretty rebellious youth. To put it more accurately, I was not a good kid. I was arrested 17 times before my 18th birthday and several more arrests throughout my twenties and early thirties. After many run-ins with the law, I had to make a choice: go to jail or serve in the military.
I took the latter option. Five years as a Navy deep sea diver gave me a newfound purpose. But I found myself on the wrong side of the law again when I went down the path of selling illegal anabolic steroids. When I finally decided to abandon that life to build Nutrition Solutions–I found myself standing before a judge waiting to receive sentencing for crimes that I’d committed three years earlier.
On getting a second chance
The police prosecutor had recommended 24 months in state prison, and I walked into the courtroom that day not knowing if I would walk out on my own free will. What happened next was nothing short of a miracle, as the judge made a decision that allowed me to be where I am today. Although I had pleaded guilty for multiple felony charges, she decided not to send me to prison. Instead, she let me off with a one-year probation. She considered the strides I took to better my life and grow my business and recognized the efforts I had made to change for the better. That judge chose to see the best in me, despite my past circumstances.
I realized that not everyone in that position would have been as lucky. Many people who experience the criminal justice system won’t have the opportunity to prove themselves the way that I was able to. That day, I vowed to do everything in my power to help those with a troubled past, have hit rock bottom or who come from nothing to help them make positive transformations in their lives. Here’s what I learned.
Someone’s history isn’t an accurate indication of their future
We have a massive problem with incarceration and re-entry in America. One in three Americans have a criminal record, and 60% of those are unemployed one year after being released. Getting a job with a criminal record is almost impossible. As Rick Wartzman previously wrote for Fast Company, many businesses see this as a sign of “the kind of workers that they’ll prove to be,” no matter how committed the individuals are to bettering themselves.
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Having hired former felons myself, I can say for sure that a mark on your criminal record doesn’t mean you can’t succeed and make something of yourself. It’s true that you can’t escape your past, but those who have struggled with life-altering circumstances or a troubled past still can create a productive life for themselves and the people around them. Pain makes you stronger–and adversity teaches you valuable lessons that you will not forget. I’ve found with the proper training, structure, and support those with criminal records can become productive employees and thriving members of society.
The benefits of focusing on character and values
To be clear, I don’t give second chances to just anyone. I evaluate those with criminal records and/or a history of substance abuse on a case-by-case basis. Some acts and crimes don’t warrant a second chance. The simple recipe for determining whether or not someone deserves another shot comes down to one element–whether or not that person has accepted full responsibility for their past actions.
Criminal record or not, you can judge a person’s character by the way they view their mistakes. Do they acknowledge it, or do they blame external circumstances? When they accept responsibility for the fact that they were the one who got themselves in that position, they also understand that they possess the ability to get themselves out.
Convicted felons and those who have served time in jail or prison also have been conditioned to living in very stressful environments and constantly being uncomfortable. This gives them a considerable advantage in the workplace when it comes to taking on new challenges, operating under pressure, and stepping out of their comfort zone. A lot of the times, the “uncomfortable situations” they may face at work are like Disney World compared to what they’ve lived through.
At Nutrition Solutions, we spend ample time strengthening each employee’s character, mindset, work ethic, and self-discipline through a mandatory personal development policy for every team member. Each day, we play motivational podcasts and e-books over the loudspeakers of the facility. We have a team briefing that includes 90 seconds of gratitude, and each team member hugs or shakes the hand of every other member. By focusing on the personal development of our team and recruiting those who are hungry for a second chance (sometimes their last), we’ve been able to grow the company more than 500% over the last three years.
A few short years ago, one of my closest friends, Lee Anderson, finished a six-year prison sentence. Throughout his time in prison, I always told him when he got out I would have a job for him and that we would do amazing things together. I picked him up that day and on the ride home, started immersing him in my sales calls to get him accustomed to the company and how we operate. Today, Lee is an incredibly high performer, serving as the director of client relations for Nutrition Solutions. He’s making a significant impact at our company, but more importantly he’s made extraordinary strides as a man, team member, husband, and father.
When your company culture and values spill over and impact your team’s personal lives positively, you know that the principles that you’re teaching at work are making a real difference. Not everyone will deserve a second chance, but I’ve learned it’s worth it to invest in those who have taken responsibility for their past mistakes and are hungry for an opportunity to create a better life for themselves and the people they care about.
Chris Cavallini is the founder of Nutrition Solutions, a lifestyle meal-prep company that provides healthy meals to clients globally.