Education-Focused BEST Program Transforms Inmates into Entrepreneurs
Providing knowledge, skills, and advice and sharing first-hand experiences, BEST offers inmates a chance at changing their futures with the help of volunteer participants and partnerships with companies like GTL
FALLS CHURCH, Va., Oct. 30, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- GTL, a leader in transformative corrections technology that improves outcomes for inmates and facilities, today announced that it is entering its sixth year as a committed partner to the Building Entrepreneurs for Success in Tennessee (BEST) program. Formed in 2014, the BEST program teaches business and entrepreneurial skills to select Tennessee inmates to better equip them for successful reentry into their communities.
BEST accepts 20 students each year into a six-month program that includes six hours of class time every weekday. The first class, or "cohort," was formed at the Charles Bass Correctional Complex while the five cohorts since have been at the Tennessee Prison for Women (TPFW) in Nashville. BEST works with the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) to identify the facilities and review student applications for the program.
"The work that BEST has done with the men and women of the past five cohorts is astounding," said Ed Welch, TDOC Assistant Commissioner. "The sixth cohort has just begun, and we at TDOC are expecting great things from this group of students as well. Every single student wants to be in the program, wants to better themselves, and wants to achieve success. It is a truly empowering program."
"Recidivism is one of the greatest challenges that today's incarcerated population may face," said Dr. Turner Nashe, GTL Executive Vice President, Education Services. "A National Institute of Justice study found that within one year of release, more than half (56.7%) of released prisoners are rearrested; within three years of release, two-thirds (67.8%) of released prisoners are rearrested; and, within five years, more than three-quarters (76.6%) of released prisoners are rearrested. After five cohorts, BEST has produced an 80.4% graduation rate and a 20% recidivism rate—an amazing reduction over the standard statistic. The progress made by BEST is saving taxpayer dollars, creating successful entrepreneurs, restoring families, and building communities."
With high graduation and low recidivism rates, there are dozens of success stories from BEST graduates. Here are two examples of how BEST graduates have turned their lives around after release:
Tiffany took the lessons learned during the BEST program and has turned her life around in 17 short months since her release. She has regained custody of her son, bought a car, moved into an apartment, helped her son get into the top magnet school in the area, started a cleaning business, hired three employees, shared her story with another BEST Cohort, gotten married, and stayed clean and sober.
Kelly is now goal-driven and loves to write down her goals, work toward them, and achieve them. In the 30 months since her release, she has regained custody of her daughter, bought a car, moved into an apartment, repaired her credit score, attained her nail technician certification, and worked at a high-end spa. She is now working toward opening her own unique nail salon.
BEST depends upon dozens of volunteers, serving as instructors, partners, speakers, and mentors, to share experience, expertise, passion, advice, and guidance to the students of the program. "The impact of all our supporters is phenomenally significant in the inmates' lives," said Karen Vander Molen, BEST Executive Director. "Students fully understand that everyone who comes in the door does so because they want them to have better skills for the future. It is incredibly impactful and significant for these students to see someone they don't know coming inside the facility to help them."
"Since BEST's inception, we have provided electronic tablets and content for the students to use," concluded Dr. Nashe. "Originally, the tablets were used to store the program's curriculum and could only be used during class time. This made BEST the first program in the Tennessee prison system to have electronic tablets. Five years later, students in the program are able to have the tablets 24 hours a day, instead of having to turn them back in after class. This offers constant access to documents, TED Talks, eBooks, the curriculum, and other content that provides positive, motivating messaging."
The BEST program is comprised of four phases that not only teach business and entrepreneurial skills but also provide opportunities for personal development and transformation.
Phase One focuses on personal growth, empowering individuals through lessons in presentation, conflict management, meditation, goal-setting, decision-making, and more. Students also start participating in the Toastmasters International Gavel Club.
Phase Two teaches business, financial literacy, and entrepreneurial skills. Students also write a business plan.
Phase Three occurs after graduation but before release, where students remain engaged through meetings, book studies, and newsletters.
Phase Four sees students being released from incarceration and returning to their communities as contributing members of society, whether as an employee or business owner.
"In totality, phase one is the most difficult for the inmates because it is focused on values development, self-healing, forgiveness, and other inner work," continued Karen Vander Molen. "We need heads and hearts to be in the right place. Inner strength is important to becoming a successful business person. But at the end of phase one, the students understand why they needed to work on themselves before they could work on building a business. Students have been amazing, coming from various backgrounds and experiences, some of which are difficult and sad. The resilience of the human spirit is an amazing thing to witness firsthand. They find inner strength they didn't know they had, grow self-confidence, and transform into someone they didn't know they could be at the start of the program."
GTL leads the fields of corrections technology, education, and intelligence, as well as government payment services, with visionary solutions that integrate seamlessly to deliver security, financial value, and operational efficiencies while aiding inmate rehabilitation. As a trusted industry leader, GTL provides services to over 2 million inmates in more than 2,500 correctional facilities in the United States and Canada, including 29 U.S. departments of corrections, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons. GTL is headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia, with an employee presence throughout North America. To learn more about GTL, please visit www.gtl.net or social media sites on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube.