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“They deserve to be locked away for life and rot!” a friend of mine said upon my return from the High Desert Maximum security prison in Susanville Ca USA. To be honest, I probably would have had the same reaction, but after spending two days inside with 150 incarcerated men hearing their life stories I had a shift in opinion.

Rieko and I along with 20 other volunteers were invited to this event by Cat Hoke the co-founder of the prison rehabilitation program called Hustle2.0 and best-selling author of “A Second Chance - Catherine Hoke” 

We would go with her and her team inside this Maximum security prison for a weekend. The High Desert Maximum security prison is massive with over 3,000 incarcerated men. I must tell you it was quite daunting at first. Did you know that 30% of 23 yr olds in the USA have a criminal history and 76% are re-offenders? What if you were known only for the worst thing you had done in your life?

The typical recidivism rate (a person’s tendency to relapse into criminal behavior) for someone released from prison is over 83%. Graduates of Hustle 2.0 have a recidivism rate of less than 7%.

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This got my attention and I wondered how is this possible?  So on the first day, Rieko, myself and the 20 other volunteers were greeted by 60 incarcerated men in cell block C.  As we stood outside the gymnasium we could hear the roar of excitement from the men inside, and then we ran through the double doors.

We ran the gauntlet through a line of high fives and nervous smiles. Quickly we broke into small groups where the men greeted us and asked questions such as “It is nice to meet you.” and “How far have you come to visit us?” To be honest we could tell by their smiles they were just as nervous as us.  Later we found that many hadn’t had visitors in over 5 years and some had never been visited.  Some men had been incarcerated for life and had been in for 14+ years. Most of them had served between 1-8 years in solitary confinement (The Shoe).   

We broke into small groups while they presented their “Lifelines” - how they came to be in prison and their subsequent stories of their path since childhood.  Most were lured into gangs at a very young age as gangs had a stronger appeal than their horrific home lives. Some were actually born in prison. After listening intently most of us volunteers realized that if we were born into similar circumstances we could be sitting on the other side of the session. It appeared to most of us that they never had a chance.

Don't get me wrong, these guys have committed some horrible crimes and Hustle2.0 offers them a second chance. A chance to break with gang life and hopefully start a small business of their own or get a good job. The program is a one-year college program that equips incarcerated men and women with skills to reintegrate into society once back on the outside. The rest of the day we critiqued their prepared resumes (keeping in mind many had only known gang life) followed by mock interviews and then a Dragon’s Den small business pitch where we voted on their best business ideas. 

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We entered the first day with knots in our stomachs. The vision of seeing men in prison attire with heads shaved and most exposed skin tattooed including faces was daunting, but this changed over the next two days. At first, we witnessed huge smiles and nervousness in their voices as they introduced themselves. As the session progressed, we saw the passion and confidence in their business ideas, their value to society and a deep will to change.

Hustle 2.0 offers subscription-based education programs to prison/jail systems that equip incarcerated people with the training and tools to transform their lives, impact, and hustle. By helping incarcerated people become motivated, engaged, and confident, Hustle 2.0 helps corrections systems reduce disciplinary incidents, violence, and recidivism.

Who they are:

Hustle 2.0’s team has decades of experience designing best-in-class curriculum and programs for people who are currently or formerly incarcerated and includes the founder of Prison Entrepreneurship Program and Defy Ventures (two nationally recognized nonprofits in the correctional education and reentry industry) and the recently retired Secretary (i.e., CEO) of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Leveraging our vast network of correctional officials, nonprofit partners, business and academic leaders, and people with criminal records, Hustle 2.0 is delivering transformative education and redemptive opportunities to America’s most overlooked talent pool.