Life was getting better.
After spending time in prison, Alton Lukas had a new job washing dishes at a pizza restaurant. He had a new car and was eager to work hard and rebuild his life. That’s when it happened.
“The guy comes and says, ‘No,no, wait!’ and I’m like, ‘What is it?’” Lukas said.
“You’ve got a felony. No no no no!”
Lukas’ new job was gone 15 minutes after it began. That’s when he realized it was real. What he was told in prison was real.
It was going to be hard, if not impossible, to get a job and start over now that he had a record.
“At that moment I was like, wow,” he said.
Brian Hamilton has heard this story many times in the last few decades. Hamilton is well known in the tech world as the co-founder of Sageworks, a fintech company he helped start in 1998. His day job kept him super-busy, but he always felt a calling to give back and teach people what he had learned about entrepreneurship. He teamed up with a friend who is a reverend and started spreading this knowledge in prisons around North Carolina.
“When you go to the prisons, you listen to their stories, you are like my goodness,” Hamilton said.
He said he understands there has to be a penalty for breaking a law in our country, but he thinks there should be a path toward a second chance once a person has served his time, and he believes that path could be entrepreneurship.
“I like helping people at the point of their need,” he said.
The work in prisons led Hamilton to start a program called Inmates to Entrepreneurs. It’s a free, 8-week course which helps people with felonies, people with a record, find a new way to earn a living.
Lukas saw a billboard for Hamilton’s program and decided to give it a shot. He graduated from the course and was able to start a successful landscaping business which now has loyal clients all over the Triangle.
“They really elevated me in terms of my business because I had no idea how to really market my business,” Lukas said.
Owning his own business has helped him do what he dreamed of doing. He’s rebuilt his life and is now trying to be a role model for others and hoping to show that people can change.
“We are people who have overcome some obstacles,” he said. “Mine was substance abuse which led me to bad decisions.”
Hamilton is now doing this work full-time after selling his share of Sageworks last year. He’s hoping to scale it to a national level, trying to help as many people as possible. He said the business is not making him any money, but that’s not the point. It’s now a passion.
“Every day you get up, if you can get out and produce value at a level or at the point at which people need it, then everything is good, you know?” Hamilton said.
“I made a mistake, and now I get the chance to start again. And that is beautiful.”