I was recently asked to speak at Conscious Capitalism’s Sum & Substance event, which is one of the big highlights of their annual conference each year. I felt scared and honored at the same time. I’ve been with Televerde for ten years. I’ve seen up close how they invest in incarcerated women, providing training, education and career opportunity while in prison and after release. It’s an extraordinary business model and one that I’ve personally benefited from. Let me explain.
I began my career with Televerde while serving a six-and-a-half-year sentence at Perryville Correctional in Arizona. This isn’t something I disclose flippantly. Some of our worst stigmas are associated with people who are incarcerated and these labels tend to endure long after prison sentences end. So, I’m cautious. But now I was being asked to share it with a room full of 750 business leaders from all around the globe. It was a big leap but (surprisingly) it didn’t take me long to decide. I said “yes” for two reasons: 1) My story might inspire others to rethink the adverse stereotypes placed on individuals with a criminal background, and 2) My personal and professional outcomes might make it easier for women like me to succeed after release.
When the reasons are bigger than yourself, you have to throw caution to the wind and go for it.
I was a ball of nerves leading to up to my speech. But the minute I started to speak, a calmness came over me. As I spoke about the most vulnerable part of my life, I could see my story resonating with everyone in the room and I felt liberated. Disclosing my truth triggered something in me. I no longer felt trapped and could say finally aloud: This is who I am. This is my story. And I’m proud of it.
It was an incredibly empowering experience that I was fortunate to share alongside three brilliant female colleagues whose journeys are testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Sudhakar Ramakrishna, CEO of my longtime client Pulse Secure, was also on stage with me. Sudhakar has believed in and supported me from day one so it was especially fitting to share this moment with him. Together, the five of us told five unique stories, all made possible through a business model built on empathy and second chances.
After the event, countless people congratulated me and thanked me for opening their eyes—it was a real rush. One company I spoke with, Bloom, really stood out. They create planners, stationary and journals for women, and they wanted to get involved with Televerde as quickly as possible. They have already sent an entire box of planners and products to our ladies at Perryville and are scheduled to meet with the non-profit organization Arouet to design a customized planner for our teams. It’s incredibly gratifying to see the immediate impact we had on so many.
I also received heartfelt messages from our Televerde colleagues who are presently incarcerated in Arizona and Indiana, which encourages me to continue sharing my story. I’m honored that these women found inspiration in my speech to help them overcome their current circumstances. And my family…while I’ve always been conscious about how my story affects them, I can tell you this: no one cheered louder for me that night. They encouraged me from the start and were so proud of me and my new accomplishment.
It’s time for all of us to move past labels and value all people for who they are today. Let’s give everyone a chance to succeed and to be better than the worst mistake they made on the worst day of their life. I challenge everyone to invest in people and give meaningful second chances to the communities that need them most.