Transforming Lives: Boot Camp Tries To Turn Ex Offenders Into Business Leaders

By Jeff Neumeyer

November 8, 2013 Updated Nov 8, 2013 at 6:51 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (21ALIVE) --- Overcoming the odds.

Ex-offenders from Fort Wayne complete "boot camp" business training, hoping to not only land a job, but also launch a new business of their own.

The new businesses that the graduates are trying to get off the ground come in different shapes and sizes.

A couple of the grads intend to do landscaping and snow removal.

One of the men calls himself the “aquarium guy”, because he wants to build custom aquariums for clients.

The Fort Wayne Urban League created and pulled off the boot camp training, which includes instruction on how to deal with tax headaches and other issues.

Of course, people who leave prison face big hurdles.

The National Institute of Justice has reported that up to 60 percent of parolees have no jobs a year after being released from incarceration.

In the boot camp, teaching is offered on how to develop a business plan, and manage finances.

A CPA and Wells Fargo Bank are serving mentoring roles for the half dozen one-time inmates who are trying to catch on as entrepreneurs.

" We got the Urban League, parole district 2 to back us up, to get us back out there to the forefront, to let the ex offenders know, they're not bad, they just made a mistake," said Welcome Smith, a one-time inmate who now is starting a local moving company.

" Anyone can start a business, as long as they have a dream, a vision, and will make a commitment, and they have the hearts to do it," said Cynthia McBride, a business consultant with the Urban League.

It's not easy starting a business under any circumstances, but ex-offenders have to face other challenges, like getting a loan and securing the trust of their client base.

But those concerns are diminished when you take into account how difficult it is for people coming out of prison to convince employers to hire them.

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