I have a talentcrush on Shelley Winner: ‘Companies need the best employees, not just the best employees without a criminal record’

Marian Jarzak
Published in
6 min readDec 16, 2018


Shelley Winner was a junkie — addicted to crystal meth. 65 gram of the drug was found in her bags when she was caught by the police. Drugs possession of more than 50 gram can get you at least 10 years of a prison sentence in the US. Shelley got four years and found out that she was pregnant. During jail, she completely turned her life around. Today, she is a loving mother, a successful businesswoman working for one of the biggest Tech companies in the world, and a founder of her own NGO “Winner’s Cirlce”.

How come you got addicted to drugs?

Well, there are many factors that contributed to my addiction but I’ll start with my childhood. I grew up with my Dad in and out of prison most of my childhood for drugs and alcohol. It became the norm and my Dad gloried drug use. He thought it was cool and told me that if I ever got any drugs that he wanted me to bring them home and share them with him. He was the one who got me drunk for the very first time at the age of 11. Although I dabbled with drugs throughout high school, my addiction didn’t take complete control of my life until around the age of 24. I started bartending and that’s when I ended up meeting one of the biggest drug dealers in Sacramento (USA) and we started dating. I had an endless supply of drugs at my disposal and because of that, I got completely sucked into that lifestyle.

In what moment did you realize “Ok, now I change my life”?

After my arrest, the judge told me I was looking at 10 years in Federal Prison and I had never been so scared in my life.

“I thought to myself, “What have I done?” “I just ruined my life”.”

I had never been to prison and the thought of going there was so scary but the biggest reason I wanted to change my life was that after my arrest I found out I was pregnant. I knew that if I didn’t change my life that my son wasn’t going to have a chance because he would most likely follow in my footsteps.

What drives you to not slide back into old habits or drug addiction?

I don’t want my life to be controlled by drugs anymore. I never want to be in bondage to a substance. I love who I am today because I feel like I finally have a purpose and a mission. My story and success will change other people’s lives and bring hope, so there’s no way I can give all of this up for drugs. There is no high in the world that compares to the life I now live. Being on drugs was a dark, depressing and lonely life that I never want to be a part of again.

Shelley Winner earlier this year at Hiring Success

What hurts more? Companies rejecting people with a criminal record or the reaction of people when you unveil your past?

I would have to say that the rejection hurts the worst because all people want is to be accepted and valued. Every time a company rejects us because of our criminal record we have to relive our past over and over again. Forced to believe that we are not worthy to work for their company. We are forced to buy into the stigma and bias’ of society. It shatters our confidence and hopes to become successful and we are never allowed to move on from our past.

In your opinion, what are the right programs for people with a criminal past getting back on the right road?

The right programs for people who are incarcerated are programs that will rehabilitate like drug treatment and also programs that will teach valuable jobs skills like technical training, welding, sales, HVAC, etc. Most people who are incarcerated never had the opportunity or resources to go to college and get a degree and that’s why it’s so important to teach them these skills while inside of a prison. Why not…they having nothing but time.

Why does inclusion of people with a criminal record matter in the business world?

Because they are still a part of our community and deserve a second chance to get their life back together.

“How can we expect from people with a criminal record to reintegrate into society successfully if we slam every door in their face when it comes to getting employment?”

A lack of stable employment is the number one reason why people go back to prison. Companies who hire people with criminal records will not only help our communities but they will get one of the best and most loyal employees because when we get hired we are very grateful and want to show that gratitude to our employer.

“Companies need the best employees, not just the best employees without a criminal record.”

Why did you found ‘Winner’s Circle’ and what do you want to achieve with it?

I founded Winner’s Circle because I know the value and impact that it will have on the inmates lives by teaching them invaluable technical job training skills which will set them up for success upon release because they can actually have a career instead of a job. There is a high demand for Software Engineers and Web Developers and these entry-level jobs start at $65,000 to over $100,000 a year in the US. Many of these men and women in prison have never made this type of money at least not legally. Knowing that they can get out and make that kind of a living will bring them hope and they will never return to drugs or crime again.

“My goal for Winner’s Circle is to reduce recidivism, change lives and bring hope”

Oh ya and let’s not forget…to show the world how amazing and talented these men and women truly are.

What would be your advice to companies which want to be more open towards employees with a criminal record?

  1. To remember that we all make mistakes and that we all deserve a second chance. The mistakes and struggles that we face in life can often produce the muscle and grit required to become successful. Making mistakes is the biggest way to build character, wisdom and help us to become a better person.
  2. Giving a formerly incarcerated person a job will help that person’s life and our communities immensely. It will help our communities by reducing the rate of recidivism and giving them hope for a future.
  3. You will get one of the best, most hardworking and loyal employees because they have experienced such great loss and now you have given them the chance to change their lives forever. You have offered them a way out from having to live a life of crime in order to make money and survive.
  4. There are 70 million people with a criminal record and there is a lot of untapped talent in that pool. You would be crazy not to try and tap into that talent. The only difference between people with criminal records and people without them is that the people with them got caught. Just saying.

How can companies benefit from hiring people with a criminal record?

Companies will benefit because they will get a hard-working, grateful, loyal employee. As a person with a criminal record, I speak from experience.

“I am one of the top performers at my company and everyday I come to work with enthusiasm and gratitude because of the second chance that I was given.”

They changed my life so how could I not bust my ass for them in return. Hiring people with criminal records is not that scary, they are people who make mistakes like everyone else and they just want a chance to move on from that mistake and life a productive successful life.

Do you think to be inclusive and diverse matters for a companies employer brand? Why?

Absolutely! It shows that the company wants to help people and the world. These companies truly care and have a heart. They have a compassion and they want to make a difference.

“It shows that they are not willing to judge people based on their past and that they are forward thinking or have a growth mindset.”

All of these things are values that make a company great and stand out from the rest. Who wouldn’t want to work for a company with this kind of a brand!


I met Shelley Winner at Hiring Success Europe. A truly mindset-changing conference. Read my recap here.

Connect with me on Linkedin and like TalentCrush on Facebook.