To prove that ex-offenders can be rehabilitated, Koch Industries is supporting the production of “Success Beyond Bars” which profiles ex-offenders who have become successful after release.
One of those profiles is Teresa Hodge, co-founder of the Baltimore-based nonprofit organization, “Mission: Launch,” and CEO of the for-profit service, R3 Score.
Hodge was once incarcerated and has now gone on to become a successful entrepreneur. She founded “Mission: Launch,” with her daughter Laurin Leonard after serving an 87-month prison sentence.
“Transitioning from prison to freedom was challenging for me. Even though I mentally fought to maintain dignity while behind the gates, when I was released from prison, I initially found it difficult to process and receive random acts of kindness, human decency and courtesies from strangers,” Hodge said. “Yet, I was filled with so much gratitude when I was treated as normal.”
Hodge has become a passionate advocate for people with criminal connections, and she says she is committed to reducing the lasting effects caused by prison.
Her nonprofit assists as many as 15 returning citizens each year and focuses on introducing technology and entrepreneurship to previously incarcerated individuals as a way of ensuring self- sufficiency. Additionally, the organization manages the Rebuilding Re-Entry Coalition, a citizen-led movement committed to creating a more just and inclusive society for returning citizens.
Hodge also plays a critical role in building strategic partnerships and establishing social enterprise models for greater reach and sustainability.
“I left prison 100 percent committed to building solutions that would help me and help other people,” she said. “Not one person I encountered in prison said ‘they can’t wait to be released so that they can come back.’ Obviously, there’s a disconnect— people would say they can’t get a job and they can’t reconnect back in the community; and I’d hear all the ways they feel challenged and I think somewhere in those moments of being hopeless, bad decisions were made or individuals just went back to doing what was familiar.”
Hodge, who is also a certified life coach says a big part of her mission is offering hope and an opportunity.
“That’s what people need, an opportunity which gives them hope, and for many that means showing them how to become entrepreneurs,” she said.
Hodge was profiled in Black Enterprise Magazine where it was noted that her organization received a $50,00 Small Business Administration grant in 2014, to help respond to the needs of the roughly 70 percent who have served time in prison and are unable to find employment.
While Mission Launch is just one of the two businesses started by Hodge and her daughter, Black Enterprise reported that it appears that their most powerful financial game changer will be R3 Score, which can be thought of as a FICO score for the formerly incarcerated.
It allows for a chance to level the playing field for ex-inmates who seek financial security by means of entrepreneurism.
“Often when bankers do a credit check or a background check, they [will] find out that you have an arrest or conviction record. In finding out that information, they are uncomfortable with giving you money,” Hodge said. “I am not a techie. I don’t know how to code a line but I brought a software engineer in and asked, ‘Could this rubric be turned into technology?’ He said, ‘Yes,’ and we’ve been developing it for two years [and] we are now ready to launch R3 Score.”
As spelled put on the Mission: Launch website, here is how it works: R3 Score is an online platform that enables individuals with records to respond to a few questions and, in turn, receive an equitable numerical score that can be used during the application process for occupational licensing, bank financing, commercial contracting or other such opportunities.
By creating a risk analysis tool, which uses an algorithm for background screening that is fair,” promises to improve the lives of those with criminal records by increasing access to jobs, entrepreneurship and financial products.
“Our focus is on, ‘you’ve been to prison, now what?’” Hodge said. “We get people from other organizations that have our same mindset and for those of us who’ve gone to prison, we can’t undo that— it’s a matter of what we will do with the rest of our lives.”
For more information about Mission: Launch and R3 Score, visit: www.mission-launch.org.