For nearly 10 years, Gus Turner was a prison inmate, hoping to run his own business after serving time for drug trafficking. He knew the odds weren’t good, says the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Although 97 percent of prisoners are eventually released, only 53 percent find work, and a far smaller share start their own businesses. “What I learned from the streets is how to hustle,” said Turner, 39. “You can dream. You can pray. It all starts there. But you have to actively make it happen.” Today, Turner operates Masterpieces, a 10-year-old art studio, tattoo shop and silk-screening business in Cleveland.
A growing movement across the U.S. is trying to train released convicts to achieve success as entrepreneurs. Northeast Ohio might be lagging behind the trend. A few people here are trying to make a difference, but no coordinated effort has emerged to help parolees stay out of prison by starting businesses. Government, private-sector officials and academics seem to agree that a job helps keep an ex-prisoner from returning to the penitentiary. Curtis Scruggs, a former corrections officer leads Northeast Ohio Re-Entry Coalition Inc., a nonprofit organization he started three years ago. He spends most of his time trying to find jobs for former prisoners. But despite incentives like tax credits and federal bonding programs, it’s not easy trying to get companies to hire people with criminal records. Scruggs teaches 15-week classes at two Ohio prisons that house men and women. Classes include visits from entrepreneurs who share tips about starting low-cost businesses, basics in finance and character, and homework such as seeking copies of their credit reports. More than 60 percent of employers surveyed in 2002 reported that they would “probably not” or “definitely not” hire applicants with criminal history records. The answer might be entrepreneurship, says a 2007 report from the Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.