CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) – Corey Sparks trained hard to work in heating and air.
“I eventually got a job in the field,” he says.
But, that job was soon put on hold.
“My past came back to haunt me,” Sparks says. “My lifestyle before was not one that I’m proud of, and I did things that led me to going to prison.”
For many people getting out of prison, it is tough to find a good job while carrying a criminal record.
After Sparks spent his time behind bars, he took an eight-week class called Inmates to Entrepreneurs, which expanded to Charlotte in 2018, to learn how to start his own business.
Sparks still has a day job working in HVAC at the nonprofit Hope Haven, an industry he says he is lucky to have found before he was convicted, but says he needed to create his own business to support his family. Now, he wants to use that business, Sparks Heating and Air Repair, to pay it forward, and help lead other people away from committing crimes to get by.
The dad of seven wants to show young people how to learn a trade, and help other parents get on the right path for their kids.
“[My kids] are my inspiration,” he says. “I know that I never want to leave them again.”
Inmates to Entrepreneurs teaches people with criminal records like Sparks how to start their own business, when the job hunt can be tricky. Though Sparks was able to hold onto work with his training in HVAC, the trouble with the job hunt is something he was familiar with, after talking with other people in prison.
“I met many an individual that had no sense of direction, nowhere to go, no idea of what they would do trying to live an upstanding lifestyle,” he says.
The first Charlotte class graduated four new entrepreneurs, and the second, 25. The third class is in progress, with upcoming graduates focusing on careers in lawn care, retail, even balloon designs.
“To me this lifestyle is easy,” Sparks says. “Because I don’t have to look over my shoulder, I don’t have to worry about anything being taken from me.”
It is a lifestyle he hopes can serve as a model, to make others in Charlotte consider a life without crime.
“The best feeling in the world is when you’re no longer looked at as an ex-con or inmate or criminal,” he says. “You’re just looked at as a businessman. I’m providing a service that people need, and that’s a great feeling.”
Thankful to be alive, Sparks says, and spending time with his family, he now wants to help more people whose lives still look like his used to.
“Sometimes a person just needs that one chance just to step out and prove that they can be the person they were meant to be,” he says.
The business owner hopes to do that by growing his company and being able to hire other people with criminal records, offering them a second chance after prison. He hopes to also show young people the consequences of their actions, and how to make the right choices for their lives.