The drive to the Danbury Federal Correction Institution and the facility itself were surprisingly attractive, if you could look past the sea of barbed wire and fencing all around. I was there last Friday and felt a little bit nervous upon arrival. We were screened as though getting on a flight and had our hands stamped in order to pass through an ultraviolet process and heavy-duty sealed passageway.
My daughter Laura joined me for the job fair at the prison. We set up along with about 10 other vendors including the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC), an organization I’m very familiar with and whom I greatly admire. Lucy Baney of Access Technologies also had a table. She and I had met a few years ago when she spoke for WBDC. When she saw me rolling in my cartons of books she came right over and said, “Boy, they let anybody in here, don’t they?” Any nervousness I was feeling quickly dissipated with her warm and funny welcome.
I wasn’t sure who the prisoners were until someone pointed out that anyone wearing all khaki was an inmate. We had met a few women before the event who fit that description, but I thought they were staff. There was no discernible difference in appearance from those visiting and those residing there. The inmates ranged in age from twenty-something to sixty-ish and older. They were very open about how their incarceration would impact their ability to get jobs when released. Many were very interested in entrepreneurship and creating their own futures.
I gave a brief talk to each group that convened in my area. I wanted to convey hope and possibility no matter what the industry they were interested in. I brought my first book, Decorating Eggs, along to show them what I had made a successful business out of. They were all intrigued and could immediately understand the potential of their ideas, whether it was running a beauty salon or helping others with communication skills.
The women were eager to learn. I donated a copy of my newly republished book Soul Proprietor to each of them and was tickled that they lined up to get my autograph. This is the closest I come to feeling like a rock star.
My contact information is in the front of the book. I hope to hear from some of them as they develop their plans. It felt good to share a positive message with women who have served their time and deserve a second chance.