Thomas Laqueá Harrell Sr., a.k.a. “T-Murder,” once ran his own Houston crack cocaine ring, a capital venture that landed him in the Texas prison system with a 25-year sentence. Seven years of incarceration later and a few weeks from being paroled, this entrepreneur is ready to go back to work. But he’s going legit. Harrell has a written business plan. All he needs, Harrell recently told a panel of business executives gathered inside a prison, is a start-up loan.
“Hello, my name is Thomas Harrell Sr., the founder and owner of Yum Yum’s Mobile Catering Service,” the animated 31-year-old inmate announced. “We make hot, on-the-spot barbecue meals.” This was Harrell’s pitch for his new business, one of 60 similar plans presented by the graduates of an unusual Texas prison program designed to harness a convict’s street smarts and funnel them into a legitimate venture upon release. “We are not so much in the business of creating entrepreneurs as leveraging their skills,” said the founder of a program. “After all, it was their entrepreneurial skills that landed them in prison.”