“Everyone deserves a second chance”: Nonprofit helps formerly incarcerated start their own business

HOLLY SPRINGS, N.C. (WTVD) — Roughly 18,000 people are released from North Carolina prison every year and come home to face more barriers from housing to unemployment.

Inmates to Entrepreneurs, a non-profit founded in Holly Springs, is working to help formerly incarcerated individuals start their businesses.

According to a report from the US Chamber of Commerce, people who were formerly incarcerated face extreme rates of unemployment. This hovers around six out of every ten jobless from release to four years after release.

Brian Hamilton, the founder of Inmates to Entrepreneurs, said the nonprofit offers people with criminal backgrounds an opportunity to start a business.

This is done through free online classes, taught by business leaders and former inmates.

Hamilton started the non-profit 30 years ago after visiting Orange County Correctional Facility. Since then, Inmates to Entrepreneurs has expanded to every state and three countries.

The program has also helped birth event planning companies, coffee shops, cleaning services and lawn care services.

Hamilton said everyone deserves a second chance and knows what an opportunity can bring.

“I think the beautiful thing about our country is that…Americans are fair-minded,” he said. “They understand that people make mistakes, but they also understand that people should get a second chance. But that is not happening with people who have been involved in our prison system.”

Hamilton is an entrepreneur himself. He is also the star of the ABC show “Free Enterprise,” which was based on the work he’s doing through the non-profit.

One of the Inmates to Entrepreneurs instructors, Lawrence Carpenter, went to prison twice.

“I realize that ‘hey, I made a mistake in life’,” he said. “I shouldn’t have to live in poverty for the rest of my life for the mistake.”

Carpenter wanted to make a change after serving time. He started his own business, Superclean Professional Janitorial Service, with just $400.

“But, I knew the only way to reach the potential I wanted to reach and not live in poverty was through entrepreneurship,” he said.

The business has provided over 20 years of cleaning services in North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina. Carpenter is also the owner of CTRAN Trucking.

Carpenter said that’s what he looks for in these people that come through his course.

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