I spent the day in prison last week. And it was one of the most profound experiences of my life.
How is it possible to stand face to face and look eyeball to eyeball with incarcerated men (now EITs – Entrepreneurs in Training) and feel safer being real than I do out in the real world? How is it possible that these men showed me more respect, and acted with more professionalism and gratitude for our help than many people I work with day to day?
DEFY Ventures puts the EITs through a rigorous program, teaching them to be the CEOs of their lives. It’s part entrepreneurship (ideation, business planning, pitching to investors) and part tactical (how to do a resume, how to do an elevator pitch). But perhaps the most important part is the human part. Self-awareness, vulnerability, forgiveness of self and others. One of the exercises allowed both the mentors and the EITs to see both how similar and dissimilar we are to/from each other. We were all partners in this exercise - vulnerable, honest, tears on both sides. We were a single unit of humanity. These huge freaking tatted up dudes, opening their hearts and tears flowing. Even Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP, who flew down to inspire the EITs with his own rags to riches story – stood in partnership and solidarity with us. It was deeply moving. My only criticism of the program is that we should have been advised to bring more Kleenex.
Last Tuesday’s election results only deepened the experience, adding more depth and meaning. We – each and every one of us that believes America is a country of tolerance, equality and freedom (regardless of any other beliefs you hold) – can help create that by getting involved with DEFY. Looking eye to eye with a man telling me that, as a child, his father was in prison and his mom was a drug addict, and he lived on the streets until he was locked up as a teenager…. And, most importantly, how he’s a father now himself, and is committed to ensuring the generational odds of his son landing in prison will be stopped in its tracks. There are no words. I would surmise that not a single person reading this can remotely relate to having that be your childhood foundation. (I certainly couldn't, and my childhood pretty much sucked). Or, god forbid, having your own children’s experience be even 1/100th as heinous. The vast majority of these guys were locked up as CHILDREN for making one dumb mistake. Many of them mistakes that you or I could lawyer away with the blink of an eye.
For anyone that is energized by recent events, this is a boots on the ground way to channel that passion and hope into action. Message me if you want to get involved. I promise it will be one of the most important and amazing experiences of your life.
PS, you don’t have to have any particular experience to be a business/start up mentor – you just have to be human, real, willing to be honest and vulnerable and able to give the EITs feedback about their ideas from the heart.
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