Catherine Hoke on OFF RCRD | TRANSCRIPT
This week, Cory speaks to Catherine Hoke, the founder of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) and Founder and CEO of Defy Ventures. Defy is a national organization that transforms the lives of business leaders and people with criminal histories through their collaboration along the entrepreneurial journey. Before quitting her corporate job to start PEP, Catherine was an associate at private equity firm Summit Partners and went on to become the Director of Investment Development at American Securities.
In this episode, she tells us how she went from the corporate world to prison, her experiences working with the incarcerated, second chances, forgiveness, and the similarities between prisoners and CEO’s. Catherine also offers advice on how to overcome a crisis. She has just released her new book now available to purchase, A Second Chance: For You, For Me, And For The Rest Of Us.
[00:01:22] Cory Levy: Thank you, Catherine, so much for coming on the show today.
[00:01:25] Catherine Hoke: It’s my great honor. Thank you for having me.
[00:01:30] Cory: I’d love to start out with your background and talk about your early days in the working world. You started out as an investor, is that right?
[00:01:34] Catherine: Yes. I started off previously selling Cutco knives and then my first real job out of college was working at Summit Partners which is a venture capital/private equity firm and then I worked in New York City at American Securities Capital Partners as a director of investment development.
[00:01:51] Cory: How old were you when you were selling Cutco knives?
[00:01:53] Catherine: I was a teenager. I was 15, 16 scrappily getting by and making some money.
[00:02:00] Cory: What were your teenage years like?
[00:02:03] Catherine: Well, I was the only girl on the boy’s high school wrestling team and I was intensely driven toward my goals and I was a pretty serious student. I spent a lot of my time sweating it out on the wrestling mat and working hard to make weight for my matches every week.
[00:02:21] Cory: How did you go from the corporate world to the prison world?
[00:02:25] Catherine: I was looking for my calling or purpose in life. What I refer to as my generous hustle. I wanted to see how I could combine my skills, my love of business and entrepreneurship with also making a difference in the world. I was kissing a lot of frogs. Meaning, I was saying yes to a lot of different opportunities. I went to Romania to work in an orphanage with HIV positive children for a while. I explored a lot of different opportunities for giving back and I never thought it would be prison-related. Because when I was 12 years old, a good friend of mine was brutally murdered by two 16-year-old boys.
When I was 26 living in New York City, I had a friend over for dinner. She was an executive at JP Morgan, she asked me what I was doing for Easter weekend and I already had booked tickets to go to California to be with family. She said, “Want to come to prison in Texas?” My first gut reaction was, “No, thanks. Never been in Texas. Don’t care to. Don’t care about people in prison. Have pretty wrapped my opinions of incarcerated people.” It wasn’t really my cup of tea. Although, I had been looking for a way to give back and make a difference, I just didn’t think it would be through this avenue.
[00:03:42] Cory: What happened? I read in the book that you did, indeed, change your plan and go to Texas. What was that like?
[00:03:48] Catherine: Well, she challenged me and she said, “You’ve been given grace and many second chances.” I was like, “Of course, I have. I’ve made many mistakes and I’m grateful for the grace that I’ve been given.” She was very persuasive in speaking about people who are incarcerated, not as the wild caged animals that I had perceived them to be, but rather as human beings who have made mistakes.
Not everyone in prison wants to change. Not everyone in prison wants a second chance and the people who like being criminals are not the ones that I advocate for. She told me that many people who are there have followed legacies of incarceration. 70% of the children of incarcerated people follow in their parents’ footsteps. Many of them haven’t really known much aside from a lifestyle that would lead to prison.
The way that she spoke about them — it piqued my curiosity. I wouldn’t say that I was really engaged with empathy or compassion or seeing any opportunity, but it was intriguing enough to me since I was at least saying that I was praying to find my calling. I said I was willing to do anything to figure out what my purpose on Earth was.
I ended up saying yes and it was really after I flew to Texas. I went to four different prisons that first weekend and the first person that I met in prison, his name is Johnny. When I asked him about his story, he told me about how his grandfather had murdered his father right in front of him when he was eight years old. A few years later, he was given drugs to sell. Then he got jumped into a gang. At age 18, he was incarcerated.
What is very sad to me is that Johnny’s story is not an outlier. It’s all too common and many people who are incarcerated, I’ve come to see and realize that we’re not so much in the second chance business. It’s often more of a legitimate first chance.
I was just in a prison last week and we do this exercise called “step to the line”. We step to the line if the statement is true. I said, “Step to the line if you have been arrested.” We had about 70 executives, CEOs, VCs in prison that day. About a third of them were at the line for having been arrested at some point in their lives. Then I say; and all of our guys, obviously, are at the line — I call them people that we serve, entrepreneurs in training, or EITs. They were all at the line. Then I say, “Step to the line if you have done something for which you could have been arrested but you did not get arrested.” And every volunteer steps forward and I would be at the line on that too and I believe that we’re all ex-some things, but for the grace of God, there go I.
I keep going through all my questions, and last week I saw something that really struck me even though it’s unfortunately also not very uncommon I said, “Step to the line if you were arrested for the first time before the age of 16.” About three-quarters of our EITs are at the line.
Stay at the line if you were arrested the first time before the age of 14, 13, 12 and I keep counting backwards. Even for being arrested by the age of 10, half of our EITs are still at the line and that’s a pretty high number. But America is a country I’ve learned that loves to warehouse human potential and if other people’s kids might get a timeout for it or maybe a spanking at best. In some communities those kids get arrested and cuffed and, “Stay at the line if you were arrested before the age of eight.” There were four young men who remain at the line.
Seven? There’s one guy who remains at the line and in my mind, these guys are now 18 to 20 years old. These four guys who were arrested at the ages of seven and eight and I’m just picturing how tiny a seven-year-old is. A seven-year-old maybe comes up to my waist or a little past waist and I’m thinking of a young little-scared boy who stole food from his neighbor’s house because he was starving or who beat up a boy who was three years older than him at the park when he was getting picked on. I’m thinking of this boy with handcuffs around his wrist set are probably too big for his little wrist and him getting fingerprinted and that being the beginning of his life.
That’s why I do this work. The people I serve they make big mistakes but many of them were born into this future and this future can change. These legacies of incarcerations and violence, they can change and not only can people not go back to prison, they’re able to become amazing entrepreneurs because the people that I have the privilege of working with, many of them are natural born entrepreneurs who are incredibly scrappy and have better sales skills than I developed from my Cutco sales days.
[00:08:57] Cory: Well, first I want to say congratulations and thank you for all of the work you’re doing since I know it’s really making a difference. Before going into talking a little bit about what prisoners have in common with CEOs, I want to ask, what do you wish you would’ve done more of earlier in your career, specifically, like actions or activities with compounding effects?
[00:9:17] Catherine: Boy, that’s a great question. Nothing is coming to mind on what I wish I had done a lot more of right now because I feel like when I decided at 24 that I wanted to figure out what my calling purpose was, I attacked that with my everything. I’ll tell you some of things that I did that served me really well because nothing is coming to mind on what I wish I had started doing earlier. When I was 26 and working in this fancy private equity job in Manhattan making more money than I needed, I had a meeting with a private equity colleague of mine.
I told him about my dream for starting prison entrepreneurship program, the first organization I started in Texas. I told him how scared I was and I didn’t know how to make a salary and I was making a nice salary and all my friends were talking smack about me saying I had lost my mind to care about this prison thing. He said to me, and these words have marked me, “Every day of your life that you spend doing something that is not your future is a wasted day of your life.” I was like, “Oh my gosh.” I knew I did not want to be a private equity investor for the rest of my life.
I walked into my boss’s office the next day terrified, clueless, naive and said I’m starting this prison program. I really went on a limb. I talk to a lot of young people now who want to start something whether it’s a for-profit company or start following their dream. What I see holds people back more than anything is, “What will other people think of me?” What I would say is, “What will you think of you if for another day, you keep doing what is not making you tick, what you are not born to do?”
Not everyone has the luxury of just quitting your job and moving to another state and starting what you want to do but everybody at least has the possibility of making time on the side to start saying yes to things that make you uncomfortable.
When I went to Romania to work with HIV positive orphans the first time that was super comfortable for me. I got out of my comfort zone. I said yes to all types of invitations and going to prison was one of those. What if I had not said yes to going to prison? I sacrificed financially because I knew I wanted to be doing something different with my life and I didn’t know what it was.
I started saving a lot of money doing fairly unconventional things because for most people who want to start what I call, your generous hustle, it’s usually going to take some form of a financial sacrifice. If you want to start your own business you won’t be making the same income that you do if you keep the job that you’re currently making or if you want to start on non-profit or if you want to travel around the world. To start living off of less right now to see what that leads to and see how you feel about it when you start living off of less. I found that money was not what made me happy.
[00:12:04] Cory: I want to go back to prison. What do prisoners have in common with the volunteers or CEOs and the entrepreneurs that you work with?
[00:12:15] Catherine: Our slogan at Defy Ventures is transform your hustle. The premises in there is that there is some hustle, to begin with. Many successful CEOs are leaders or entrepreneurs consider themselves to be natural born hustlers, and that’s the same for many, not all. But many people who find themselves incarcerated, many of them were selling gum out of their gym locker, and then it turned into drugs, and then they found themselves part of a gang and committing crimes. We transform that hustle.
I learned for the first time when I was 26 on that first prison visit, that many drug rings and gangs have a whole lot in common with successful companies. They have bylaws and boards of directors, and accountants, and they have sales strategies and they corner their markets. They didn’t exactly nail their risk management strategies because all the people in prison got busted. But what would happen if they went legit with their skill sets?
That’s the idea behind Defy. When you’re running a drug ring or a gang, you face some pretty tough competitors. Your life is on the line though quite literally when you’re selling drugs or when you’re in that world. They’re definitely managing toward a bottom line. Many drug rings and gangs have way better profit margins than even some software companies. Good leaders have to be charismatic and be able to motivate a team toward their goals, and leaders of gangs and drug rings are able to do that.
I would say that one thing that is a big difference between some for-profit companies and gangs or drug rings is that, there are many companies that I admire so much in the world that are in fact generously hustling, where they have a double bottom line. They have a financial bottom line but they’re also using their product and their profits to make a positive difference in the lives of their employees and in society.
I’m so inspired by the number of companies that have joined the ranks of Defy. Many companies like Google and Facebook and many others take company field trips to prison. Where they’ll actually bring their employees to prison to gain empathy and awareness of what they can do to make the world a better place. Someone who is leading a drug dealing empire typically is using his or her skill set in a way that is not building up society, that is not generously hustling.
[00:14:54] Cory: Your book which is called Second Chance just came out what inspired you to write that?
[00:15:00] Catherine: Well, Defy is my own second chance. I’ve had more than a second chance in my life. I have been the beneficiary of grace and opportunity from people and mentors who believed in me even when I was at my lowest point in my life and saw no potential in myself, and so I wrote the book because when I was at my lowest 28 years ago and didn’t see a future I promised God that if I did have a second chance that I would use my everything to pour into second chances or 50th chances for people who have screwed up. Which is not only people with criminal histories but it’s also to anyone who’s listening to this podcast.
All of us have made mistakes and I have seen that even though you might be on this side of the fence, meaning you are not physically incarcerated, I see every day the way that humans who make mistakes all of us — we can be incarcerated in our minds and our hearts over the shame that feeds us these beat down messages that say, “You suck. You will never amount to anything. If anyone knew the real you they would not love you or accept you, you are not enough.”
I wrote this book to create awareness for Defy Ventures about second chances. One of the messages is, “Look, if people who have made these really big mistakes where they have now spent 20 years of their lives incarcerated. If they can overcome their shame, if they can find it in themselves to forgive themselves, if they can find other people to forgive them and then they get out of prison and they start a successful company.”
Our program is called CEO of your new life. They become the CEOs of their new lives. They become the parents they’ve always wanted to be. They become employers.
If they can do that and have a better future so can you. I hope this book is a gift to other people, and I like to say I’m a forgiveness parrot. If you choose to forgive yourself or forgive one other person then I’m glad that I’ve written the book. If you’ve already forgiven yourself for everything and believe in yourself and your future and you’re already living your calling, maybe this book could be a gift to somebody else who is struggling with shame or feeling worthless.
[00:17:34] Cory: What’s the number one tip you have for someone who is at their lowest point, feeling shame or worthless?
[00:17:40] Catherine: If I could beat this into your brain I would. You are not your past. You are not equal to the worst thing that you have done. You made a bad decision so have I. You hate what you did, we all hate what you did, okay.
We cannot change the past, but you are capable of having a beautiful future regardless of who you are. But if you want to have a future worth fighting for, you have to stop living in the past, so let’s reconcile the past.
In my book, I talk about for example how to confess something because if you keep living in shame and secrecy it will probably eat you alive like it has for me in my hard times. A confession is not the same as forgiveness so forgive yourself. Many people have a really hard time with the idea of forgiving themselves. What we teach at Defy is forgiveness is not a feeling. Forgiveness is not something you can earn. Forgiveness is probably not something you deserve, but forgiveness is a choice.
If you tell yourself “I forgive me,” or “I forgive him,” or “I forgive her,” it’s a really tough thing to say. Then we encourage you to get stubborn about forgiveness because right after you say, “I forgive me,” your brain is going to say, “Psych, no, I don’t. You’re a loser, you suck, you’re going to do it again,” and all these other negative messages of shame that your brain will probably replay and then get stubborn about it.
When I ask you what is that tape of shame that plays in your brain? If it says you’re a loser I would ask you would you allow anyone to walk up to your face and to say out loud the tape of shame that you say to yourself all day long. You’re a loser. You suck. You won’t amount to anything. You wouldn’t allow anyone to say that to you. Why do you allow your own brain to say that to you? What if you could take control of the words in your own brain and reverse it and every time your brain says something negative, reminding yourself sovereignly, “I forgive me or I forgive him.”
When it’s about forgiving God or forgiving someone that you’re really mad at you might say, “Well, that person has asked for my forgiveness or that person hasn’t deserved the forgiveness.” Then what I would say is when you think back to whatever act that was committed that seems so unforgivable to you, what are the feelings that brew in your heart?
Typically, when I ask my EITs about this they say things like resentment, hate, vengeance, bitterness, depression, all these ugly things. So I’m like, “Well, you want to keep your big ball of hate? You want to walk around with that big ball of hate burning in your heart? Think about the last time that your hate decided for you in your life. Do you want to be that person? Because if you don’t you can choose forgiveness. Is forgiveness for me or for the other person?” We talk about how forgiveness is for me. Sure it can be good for the other person too but forgiveness frees me and when I choose not to forgive me or the other person I live in the past.
If you want to keep being shackled to a past that you hate, don’t forgive. You want to have a better future, reconcile your past, understand it so you can do your best not to repeat it. Choose forgiveness every single day pound it into your brain. Surround yourself in a community like Defy that says we take ownership of our mistakes. We are not our past mistake. That’s not who we are and we can have a better future. Choose forgiveness every day and then apply your full self to discovering what that future can look like.
[00:21:25] Cory: That’s a really great answer. Thank you for sharing that. You spoke about your lowest point. What was your lowest point?
[00:21:32] Catherine: After jumping ship from my job and starting Prison Entrepreneurship Program which is still going in Texas today. I had been leading that organization PEP for five years with tremendous success and I had been married for nine years. I got married when I was 22 years old and one thing I said I would never be was a divorced woman. I was living in Texas I was immersed in a very Christian community where people say things all time like God hates divorce and divorce is sin.
I was so driven to getting PEP to be a great success that I missed many opportunities to be a wife. When I was 31, I was handed divorce papers and that came unexpectedly to me. In the wake of my divorce, I went through a lot of hardship. I was hospitalized, I had pneumonia, back to back pneumonia. When I had to move out of my house — I had been taking care of other people for a long time, and now I was at a low point covered in shame as a divorced woman.
I didn’t exactly want to send a press release about my news. I was so down on myself. When I was in the hospital and didn’t know who to call to come and pick me up that was a pretty low point of my life. The people that I confided in about my personal failure were other people who I knew had gone through failure themselves. They were released graduates from PEP in Texas. They were men who had been graduates of my program and were out of prison and I told them about my divorce and then they had my back.
They helped me move out of my house and pick me up from the hospital and in a moment of weakness I crossed boundaries and I had relationships with people had gotten out of the Texas prison system. What I did was not illegal but I knew better. I knew it a bad leadership decision. I knew that if the Texas prison system found out that they would not like it. It went against my personal spiritual values. I knew better and at my low point, I still made a short-sighted decision that I have regretted to this day.
Well, when I was asked and confronted about my choices I was honest about it and I feared that my honesty might cost me my everything and it did. Or I should say almost my everything but when I got honest about my scandal it felt like it was costing me everything. The Texas prison system forced my resignation and they forced it in the media. The news of my sex scandal eight years ago went out across national news. Before that happened I sent a full disclosure letter, we had 7,500 supporters at the time — people I respected more than anything in the world.
I had already been through a shame to say, “Look, I’m divorced.” Now it was like not only am I divorced but I’ve also made these really short-sighted decisions and I’m not able to lead PEP anymore because of my choices. When I sent out that letter even before the media hit I saw no reason to keep living my life anymore. After I started PEP, I mean I went all in. I know why God has put me on earth. I had $50,000 in my bank account. I put it all in and starting PEP. I cashed out my 401K for this.
I had no plan B and after the choices I had made, I not only screwed up my job, my calling, I lost my identity as a wife, as a leader. I also felt like I had put into jeopardy the lives of all the people that I had cared for. I felt so disappointed in myself. I felt so disgusted by myself. I didn’t feel like I could look anyone in the eye.
When I sent this letter out to people, what saved my life, literally because I was ready to take my life, was that about a thousand people wrote me back with emails of love and support and, “What are you doing next and you’ve always preached grace and second chances, we stand with you.” When people asked me what I was doing next I didn’t have an answer. I was really — I was empty. I was self-defeated. I didn’t believe in myself. I had no money.
I just didn’t have an answer and there was a small group of people, there was a couple named Bill and Andrea Townsend who I say are like my adopted mom and dad. Bill was the first person to call me after my resignation mass email went out. He said, “Sweetie, we love you, we believe in you. We want to love you back to life, come and stay with us for a while.” I took them up on that and I entered a one-year period of intense healing. I went to therapy four days a week. I went to these leadership script camps where CEOs and pastors alike have gone.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only leader who has made big mistakes in my life. I took a year to breathe and to figure out what I wanted to do next. When I’m really depressed I think one of the hallmarks of depression is that it feels hard to put one foot in front of the other. I certainly had a hard time doing that. I felt lifeless. Normally I’m a super energetic person, passion driven, vision-oriented and I didn’t have any of that and I lost my self-confidence completely.
The way that other people believed in me and still thought that I had value in the world. They loved me for me. They didn’t just love me for the results that I was producing for the world — that was really healing to me. I would not wish a public scandal on anybody but one of the benefits that I’ve seen now of having a scandal that nearly destroyed me is no one thinks I’m an angel. It’s not a license to mess up again.
I take my responsibility extremely seriously and I’m really good at learning from my lessons. But I don’t have the pressure now of being — people used to say that I was like a prison angel. I knew I was not an angel. That’s a lot of pressure to live up to but now people know that I’m screwed up and guys in prison say, “You’re just one of us,” and to me, that’s a big compliment.
I learned a lot about second chances and the way that people believed in me is where my passion — I’ve always had a passion for underdogs and entrepreneurship and people with criminal history since I started this work. But now my commitment to the world is to use every ounce of me to give back and to invest in people who are at the same point that I was eight years ago.
When I didn’t have a vision for me and I couldn’t see above the clouds but I still had some people who saw something and who said to me, “You have what it takes to start this again. America needs you.” One guy said to me right after I started Defy and I was trying to raise money on the heels of a scandal and he said, “Defy will not only be national, Defy will be global. You have what it takes.” I kind of believe these people — they sound like crazy people to me because I was so insecure.
Today Defy is mostly national but we have even graduated Defy graduates in Kenya by working with another partner organization as taking on our curriculum. It’s amazing to see what happens when people believe in people, who others have written off.
[00:29:25] Cory: If you were to go back in time what would you tell yourself to do differently when the media wrote that story and you were at a very kind of low point. I want to talk about like are there any tools or tips or tactics that you have for people that are going through this terrible crisis in their life.
[00:29:49] Catherine: I was very blessed to have amazing minds around me protecting me and helping guide me through my crisis. I do have some tips though of what I learned from that and what I wish I had done. First, something that I learned and was coached on is before you even confess, when you mess up the most normal human brain thing to do is to lie, deny, or minimize because our brains typically think if you knew the real me I would not be good enough you would reject me I’m not okay the way that I am. What would happen if we messed up but then we didn’t lie about it?
I was tempted to lie but I had the best advisers around me who were like cover your bases give a meaningful apology, something I read about in my book as well. I wanted to say in the media like I’m resigning for personal reasons and leave it at that, but I knew the gossip and the rumors that would come about from that. Instead of doing that I had a full disclosure letter and I can’t tell you how gut-wrenching it was to write that and to send it.
But my advice is, after you screw up if you give a half-confession or a half apology and then you get caught for the other half or even say you’re confessing 95% of it then you get caught for 5% of it, the credibility that you will lose a second time could keep you down for a lot longer. Regardless of what you’ve done you can have a better future and admitting it to ourselves what we’ve done I think is one of the hardest steps. Find someone safe to confess the whole shebang too and then yes be careful with how you craft your words around your apology.
Another thing I learned is keep the circle of a confession to the circle of the sins. The fact that I sent my resignation and my confession, my apology to 7,500 people that was a very rare circumstance. It’s the only time I’ve done something like that but it’s because my bad decisions led to me having to resign and 7,500 people had looked at me as a leader. That’s why I made such a broad confession and apology. But typically if you’ve offended two people you don’t need to put an apology on Facebook. Apologize to those two people and really take ownership of what you’ve done, don’t cut corners in your apology.
One thing that really hurt me after I followed the wonderful wisdom of all these people of my confession and apology is when I saw after the media hit what random strangers wrote about me on the Internet, people made up all types of other stuff. I thought I had already been extremely disclosing of my mistakes but it’s amazing how some people like to kick you while you’re down. These internet cowards have no problem embellishing and writing up all kinds of other stuff.
When I read what people who didn’t know me the words that they called me on the Internet and the way that they added untrue details to my story I nearly took my life because I couldn’t believe the way that other people hated me. I thought I was disgusting enough but then they made me more disgusting. I wish I had not read that stuff and especially today with social media and internet bullies it’s really hard not to read everything that’s out there about you.
Then to let it like consume my brain but I don’t like about stuff anymore. There are going to be cowards who will try to take you down and won’t say it to your face because it’s so much easier for them to write it behind your back anonymously. I wish I had not given them the mindshare that I did. I wish I had been that much quicker to forgive myself. The stuff that I read about in my book has been my journey of healing and forgiveness for myself and for others over eight years and I wish I could have read my book back then.
[00:33:55] Cory: What is the best day you’ve experienced at Defy?
[00:34:00] Catherine: I have so many and I am going to talk about our graduation day and it’s not just one day, it happens a lot. For many of the men, women, and youth that we serve, it represents the biggest accomplishment of their lives because they have worked for about a year to graduate Defy inside prison. Our curriculum has been vetted by the Baylor University MBA program and most of our people average an eighth-grade education.
When they earn a Baylor University MBA program certificate it’s a really big deal. We have a family reunification program and our family liaison talks their mom or their dad or their brother into coming to the prison to witness this beautiful graduation moment. A lot of times their kids will come and on occasion, we get a child who has never met their father before and they come and they embrace for the first time.
Many times we have parents who reconnect with their children for the first time in years. The night before graduation our dads or our moms that we serve, they decorate these little miniature t-shirts and a t-shirt go on these little adorable teddy bears. Then at one point in the graduation ceremony after they have walked the stage and earn that Baylor’s certificate to pomp and circumstance and we have all these CEOs and venture capitalists in the audience.
We have the proud families in the audience and the moms say, “I have been praying for this moment all of these years that my son would finally see himself through my eyes.” Then the dads go and grab their little teddy bears. They have the t-shirts on them and the t-shirts that they decorated that say like daddy loves you or daddy’s princess. Then we have the kids come up to the stage and their dad presents the child with this teddy bear while we’re playing a song like, you’re beautiful.
The dad says to their child I love you I’ll never leave you again I’m here for you. I don’t know if that means much to you the listener but imagine you got in a car after a party after drinking one too many and you hit somebody and it ended up sending you to prison for five to 10 years and you have children. Just because you made a really bad decision doesn’t mean that you love your children any less and every day you’re probably beating yourself up for leaving your kids.
For the holidays or for your kid’s birthdays, you don’t get to send them presents see you don’t get to do anything sometimes you only get to see them behind four inches of glass. At the Defy graduation there you are in your beautiful cap and gown and we make the families feel like a million bucks. For you to get to present your child with this teddy bear is a great opportunity. It’s a moment of reconnection and reunification and at Defy we made sure that it’s not just a one-off moment. Through our friends and family program we serve the families and the families get to take the same courses like in The Five Love Languages and parenting.
Even when you have a criminal history and conflict resolution communication that families take the same courses at the EIT the whole family gets to transform together. For the children, many of our kids are mad, rightfully so at mom or dad for having left them for all these years. Sometimes they’re teenagers but under mad a lot of times they’re sad and the kid just wishes that they could have a dad like everybody else does.
I’ve heard from a lot of our moms after they leave the graduation with the child who may say, “My daughter, we had a six-hour drive home and she didn’t put the teddy bear down on time and she sleeps with that teddy bear every single night.” Equipping our EITs to not only become entrepreneurs and amazing employees at their companies but the parents that they’ve always wanted to be is a lot of what I live my life for and every time that we have one of these graduations that feels like it’s my wedding. Feels like the best day of my life. It just feels like a tremendous opportunity because I live to see people believe in themselves and I live to see families reconnected and redeemed.
[00:38:27] Cory: How often do those days happen?
[00:38:30] Catherine: I don’t go to all of them because Defy is so big. I definitely don’t lead every present of that anymore but I think like in 2018 we’ll probably have around a hundred of these graduations throughout the country. It kills me to not get to be there to shake every one of our graduate’s hands but more than wanting to shake every one of their hands, I want everyone who is incarcerated who wants a shot, a redemption, a rehabilitation to have that opportunity.
We have an amazing staff that leads these shark tank pitch competitions and business coaching day where you can become a mentor and these graduation ceremonies. There’s one that happens like pretty much every week at some prison in the country through a Defy program. I’m really, really proud of that.
[00:39:15] Cory: That’s great. Catherine, thank you again. This is great.
[00:39:20] Catherine: Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to create awareness. I really appreciate the great questions and the opportunity to share the vision and the work of Defy.
[00:39:30] Cory: For those who want to get involved in Defy where should they go?
[00:39:33] Catherine: Our website is defyventures.org, we’re a nonprofit. If you would like to be involved, you can come to prison, and were in prisons nationally. If you’re a business person you can become a mentor. You can become an advocate for second chances by sharing this podcast with your friends. You can invite me or someone from Defy or one of our graduates to come and share at your organization or your group. You can provide a scholarship, and for just $42 a month it’s $500 a year, that provides one scholarship that results in a less than 5% recidivism rate and a 95% employment rate.
You can become a philanthropist, a philanthropist that you’ve wanted to be. We encourage you to become an advocate for second chances so that instead of complaining about this or that in the country we’re building the country that we want to live in. We would love to have you involved in Defy and even if you don’t do a damn thing for Defy, which I would love for you to, I hope that if you do order the book on Amazon and read it, I hope that it will be one part of your journey and leading you to greater freedom for your own future.