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Rhode Island Inmates Learn to “Mind Their Own Business” as Part of New Reentry Program in Minimum Security

Every Monday and Thursday for the past nine weeks, about a dozen men at the Rhode Island Department of Corrections have spent two hours in a Minimum Security classroom with instructor Larry Walsh of Pawtucket for practical instruction on how to run their own business. To earn a spot in Walsh’s M.Y.O.B. program, the men must complete an application asking about their work experience and the type of business they hope to start. Walsh, Manager of Marketing and Sales for Correctional Industries, then whittles down the 120 or so men who express an interest and determines which 21 or so to accept. (The beginning roster in September was 21, and 13 will complete the class this semester.)

Walsh joined the staff of Correctional Industries 19 years ago when he was hired by now Assistant Director of Rehabilitative Services Roberta Richman. He had run a similar program on the outside and it was at Richman’s urging that he recently began to offer it at the ACI as part of the Department’s increasing focus on prisoner reentry – preparing inmates for life after incarceration.

Walsh provides his students with a master workbook which includes Small Business Administration (SBA) materials on accounting, marketing, and other important business principles. Each student must prepare a personal business plan which they are required to present to their classmates. “I’m trying to get them to think like a business owner,” Walsh says, “and I prepare them to go before a loan officer.”

Walsh invites guest speakers who are “actually doing it now” to share their experience with his students. This session, they have included a business loan officer from Coastal Community Bank, a representative of the R.I. Small Business Development Center, a workers’ compensation specialist with Beacon Mutual Insurance, and Yvette Ullom, whose company, Bean Counters, specializes in helping small businesses with their accounting functions.

Walsh realizes that ex-offenders face an uphill battle when they get out and that the Small Business Administration won’t consider anyone for a loan if they’re on probation, which most Rhode Island offenders are when they leave prison. “Other Federal resources ARE available,” he notes, “and the key is to find the resources and develop them so they have the seed money they need to get started.”

“I have 13 students and 13 different business plans,” Walsh shares. Some of the businesses proposed include a barber shop, a restaurant franchise, a knock-off clothing company, and a trucking company. Walsh says there is really no difference between his students in prison and those he taught on the streets. They all have an interest in providing for their families and in their children’s education. Only a handful has the right mix of experience, determination, resources, and knowledge to succeed as small business owner.

In addition to lecturing, Walsh also offers one-on-one time to his students at the end of each session. He encourages his graduates to reach out to him after they’ve gone home to let him know how they’re doing and ask his advice.

Walsh has an undergraduate degree from Bryant University and received his Masters in Public Administration from the University of Rhode Island in 1998. He owned a braided rug company in Pawtucket, which he sold prior to joining the RIDOC.

Inmates receive three days of good time per month and 15 days upon completion of the class, for a total of 21 days off their sentences. He figures about 25% are there for the good time but the other 75% are sincere and serious.

On a Thursday afternoon in October, Yvette Ullom, President of Bean Counters, spoke to the men about assets, liability and equity, sales, expenses, and the importance of networking. She shared an old adage that bears repeating, “None of us plans to fail; some of us fail to plan.” The men listened intently and took notes.

What the students do after receiving their certificate upon completion of the class on Thursday, November 19th, is really up to them. It is Walsh’s and the Department’s hope that they will have a greater likelihood of success thanks to their participation in the M.Y.O.B. class. A new session of M.Y.O.B. is slated to begin in May of next year.

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