Inmates to Entrepreneurs: Edward Eliesya J Wallace

Edward Wallace was born in New York but spent much of his youth in Southern Pines, N.C. surrounded by racial tensions and mistrust of newcomers. By the time Wallace was in his teens, he knew being an employee wasn’t an option for him – entrepreneurship was in his blood. “I always worked but I was never satisfied as an employee. My mother was hardworking and very entrepreneurial. Because she was a model in New York, fashion is in my blood. Growing up poor, I ended up making a lot of my clothes because I couldn’t find things I liked,” Wallace noted.

In 2011, Wallace opened Eliesya J’s Boutique in Southern Pines, a one-stop shop for custom made clothing, organic skin and hair care, chic jewelry, accessories and more. Unfortunately, the business came to a halt when Wallace was sentenced to prison time. “When I was in prison, I wasn’t a negative person. I really wanted to leave prison and I needed to get out to save myself. I didn’t want to be in prison and not do anything with my life, knowing I was capable of so much,” Wallace commented.

Upon his release, Wallace moved to Fayetteville, N.C. to better himself and revamp his business in a new area. “I still had Eliesya J’s boutique online but it mostly sold a bunch of African attire and jewelry. My grandmother traced our ancestry back to Africa and I wanted to bring that culture here. Seven days after being released, I started Mafanikio African Goods Store,” Wallace explained.

In 2019, after hearing about Inmates to Entrepreneurs from signs advertising the course at Fayetteville Technical Community College, Wallace decided to register for his local eight-week course. “The course was amazing,” Wallace said. “It was an awesome experience and I couldn’t believe it was free and that they were trying to help people with a criminal background. I learned great information to help me start my own fashion line for less than $500.” The group met once a week for eight weeks, with a graduation at the last class.

As for his advice to returning citizens, Wallace notes the importance of changing both the physical and mental space you’re in. “Change your thinking, find a support system, and be persistent and proactive. Connect with groups like Inmates to Entrepreneurs, and reentry councils in your area. Find something to put your energy into, including the environment and the people you hang with – dump those that don’t have your best interest in mind. Negativity will always bring you down.”

Inmates to Entrepreneurs’ free video course “Starter U: How to Start, Run, and Grow a Business” is available online and on Edovo’s tablets in correctional facilities across the U.S. The organization also provides online classes throughout the country.

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