A few years back, I discovered a cleaning contractor, Randy MacKenzie, who was teaching at a prison in Oklahoma.  He was using my books as part of his curriculum. I paid him a visit to see what he was up to.  To my surprise, the class was full of kind, polite, enthusiastic people, who were committed to making a better life for themselves and each other.  These guys have made mistakes.  Some of them have killed people. In spite of their wrongdoings, maybe because of them, these fellows have a level of service to others that I have rarely seen on the “outside.”

We started a class called The Bare Bones Biz Challenge. The intent was to teach business skills to inmates so that, when released, they could hit the ground running. Make money and have a positive impact on society. Care for their families. Find a way to express their entrepreneurial skills in legal ways. It was a blast! The best part was that the inmates ran the program. TJ, Oz, Eric, Robert, Charles, Matt, Richard, Jeff, Jason, and others took the initiative and kept the program going.

My sister Gail and I would visit a couple times a year for a “Shark Tank”-esque Biz Plan presentation.  Together, we could dream.  That’s no small thing, especially in prison.  (I wrote a blog about my experiences.)

Then, our program was cancelled.  Personnel changes and budget cuts.  After all, it’s easier to just lock the men down.  There is no profit in rehabilitation.  I lost track of the inmates, with the exception of the those who have been released and stayed in touch.  A few are doing great.  A few are hanging on.  More are unaccounted for.

With all the problems we face, is helping convicted felons high on your list?  Maybe not, and I get it.

For me, the experience has prompted me to consider the larger question:  If you make a mistake, how do you make amends?  How do we, as a family or a society, offer restitution?

Definition of restitution 

  1. an act of restoring or a condition of being restored: such as
    a: a restoration of something to its rightful owner
    b: a making good of or giving an equivalent for some injury
  2. a legal action serving to cause restoration of a previous state

We are all guilty of some transgressions.  There are not good people and bad people.  There are people who sometimes move the line to justify why what they did isn’t as bad as someone else.  There are people who spend their lives consumed with regret, and self-loathing, as they spiral into addiction. There are good people doing bad things.  We may not want to draw lines between us.  Social media isn’t my jam for political discourse.  However, the #metoo movement, justice reform, general political divisiveness…these issues require that we find some path forward.

Recently, one of the leaders of The Bare Bones Biz Challenge Class made contact with me through his supervisor. He had been transferred to a new facility.  He and a few of the guys from The Bare Bones Biz Challenge are working with a business conglomerate, which is an entity within the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. He shared that he is proud that they are being of service, productive, and that part of their wages go to a victims restitution fund. Check out Oklahoma Correctional Industries. The cycle of violence can be broken if we are willing to adopt, and teach, new skills.

I’m so glad we have reconnected and I am eager to help.  My mission is to expand freedom, through honorable, profitable business.  I have the opportunity to work with these fellows to do just that.  Very cool!