'Recycling' Human Capital, One Inmate at a Time

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Each year some 12 million people go through America's jails and more than 700,000 are released from the country's state and federal prisons.

Many who leave often struggle to find work and return to a life of crime. But one man wants to change that -- one inmate at a time.

Sean Collins-Harris once dreamed of traveling the world as a motivational speaker.  But in college, that all changed after he got caught up with the wrong crowd and started selling drugs.

Quick Money

"I wanted to make quick money," he told CBN News.

That desire to make fast money eventually landed Harris behind bars.

"I was sentenced to five years in the state penitentiary for possession with intent to distribute more than five pounds of marijuana while in possession of a firearm," he explained.

After serving his time Sean ran into a familiar problem -- his record.

"You got to put food on the table, you got to provide for your household," he said.

"How are you going to handle these responsibilities when people are afraid of you because you're a convicted felon?" he asked. "They've been told not to hire convicted felons."

Re-entering Society

Dr. Toks Idowu sees the problem all too often. After taking part in his church's prison ministry, Idowu noticed a trend among prisoners re-entering society.

"As it got close to the time of the men's release, a lot of them became apprehensive," Idowu explained.

"I found out that a lot of them didn't want to go back to the same 'ol neighborhoods. They didn't want to go back to the same guys they hung out with," he said.

"When you get so many closed doors in your face, what is there left to do? What can you do?" Sean said.

"I had a child. I had a wife. So it was either one or two things. Go back to what it is that I knew how to do, cause trust me, the same 'ol gang was there," he said.

Leadership Call

For that reason, Idowu created Leadership Call, an organization that is helping to remove barriers for ex-offenders across Virginia.

"Unfortunately, most of these men have been given a bad rap," he said. "They've already paid their dues by going to prison. They don't have to keep on paying when they get out."
Leadership Call helps participants tear down negative mind sets while discovering their strengths and abilities.

It is based on the Second Chance Act, which was signed into law April 9, 2008.

The public law helps provide employment assistance, substance abuse treatment, housing, family programming, mentoring, victim's support, and other services that can help reduce recidivism.

Leadership Call employs something called the 4-D model that incorporates deconstructing old thinking patterns, discovering gifts and abilities, developing through training and mentoring programs, and deploying ex-offenders into career paths, etc.

"I'm a firm believer that everyone has a gift in them," Idowu said.

"All we're trying to do is find out what God has deposited in each individual and help them tap into that to become self-governed," he continued.

Being Your Own Boss
One way of discovering their untapped potential is by starting their own businesses.

Idowu said he uses his experience as a consultant and defense contractor to get the ball rolling.
"I'm a free market capitalist," he explained.

"I'm a firm in believer in business; if there's one thing that works well it's a free market, so I've seen that work tremendously well with the men," he added.

"We have about an 85 percent rate of success."

If Sean Can Do It

Sean became a Christian while in prison then went on to be one of the program's success stories.

"I borrowed a lawn mower from my grandfather, went and borrowed a pressure washer from my wife's aunt," he explained.

"Now I own two pressure washers, seven mowers, trailers and equipment. I run my own lawn care business," he said. "I have sub-contractors under me that do roofing and all types of handyman services."

Twenty-nine-year-old Mike Taylor faced an eight-year prison sentence for robbery.

Before becoming involved with Leadership Call, Taylor felt he had a death wish after seeing so many of his friends killed in the street.

"I was ready for forever," he told CBN News.

"If I would have got shot and died right then, I would not have cared and if I woke up. I wouldn't have cared," he said.

Today, he cares about the plans for his new t-shirt business and non-profit organization called, Young Blacks Making a Divine Difference, or YBMADD.

He said it is because of the biblical principles and discipleship program that his perspective has changed.

Some of the target programs include gang prevention and mentoring at-risk youth.

It is something that will help him to do good in the communities where he once did so much bad.

"I'm not worried about the money," he said. "I'm just worried about making a difference when I leave here."

"I just want to leave a great legacy that's going to last for future generations," he added.

Transformed Lives

Idowu said when inmates complete their 12-month participation in the program, the outcome is renewed hope and transformed lives.

"The only thing we don't recycle is human capital," he said.

"Think about it, it's created in God's image but we dump it, we trash it and you know just let it go. So in a way I'm in the recycling business."

"It's awesome to see when they get it and they run with the vision," he said.

Collins-Harris agrees and is thankful for his new outlook on life.

"I'm just giving God the glory for everything that he's doing and just standing in awe and can't wait to see what he's going to do next." Harris said.


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CBN News
Charlene  Aaron

Charlene Aaron

CBN News Reporter

Charlene Aaron serves as a general assignment reporter and helps anchor for the CBN News Channel.  Follow her on Twitter @CharNews and "like" her at Facebook.com/CharleneIsraelCBNNews.