One Commitment We Must Make This Women’s History Month

Today marks the 32nd annual Women’s History Month and this year’s theme celebrates visionary women. The textbook definition of visionary is someone who thinks or plans for the future with imagination or wisdom. Given this, it should come as no surprise that in my role as CEO of Televerde, it’s a theme that strikes an emotional cord.

I lead a technology company that’s 87% female–70% of whom are incarcerated in state prisons in Arizona and Indiana. (Televerde is a B2B demand gen company with five of our contact centers employed entirely by women incarcerated at the Departments of Corrections in AZ and IN.) I had the privilege of meeting these women as a customer and since then have watched these ladies grow and transform into the most consummate business professionals I’ve ever seen, and it’s been anything but easy for them.

Most of the women who work for Televerde don’t come to us from storybook childhoods. They are broken, very often drug addicted and survivors of emotional, sexual and physical abuse. They’ve never had anyone point to their worth or invest the time and energy to help them find and fulfill their human potential. Many were discarded by their loved ones and written off by society. Their stories are different but also similar: broken dreams, families torn apart, children removed. They can point to every flaw, weakness and shortcoming, but can’t find one strength to cling to. It’s especially hard in a country where harsh stigmas are imposed on those who are formerly incarcerated, making it a major barrier to successful community reintegration. They’re aware of this and it leaves them with little hope, yet something keeps pushing them to find that second chance to prove they can be better than their worst mistake.

From Inmates to Visionaries

I opened with the formal definition of visionary but now I’d like to share mine. To me, a visionary is someone who is resilient, intensely focused, takes risk and is unafraid to change. And when you’re around a visionary, you’re inspired. This is my experience every time I step into one of our prison-run contact centers. I’m surrounded by visionaries – women who inspire because of where they are today and where they plan to be tomorrow.

From the time we hire these ladies to work for our company, they are trained rigorously in business acumen and technology. And for the overwhelming majority, they are starting without any previous skills or experience. It’s all new. In fact, many get their GED while on the inside—the minimum education level required to work for us. The ability for adults to successfully change so dramatically, while at the same time training oneself for today’s workforce is rare, underscoring how resilient and strong they are.

It might be counterintuitive, but a prison-run contact center lends itself well to an environment of continuous learning. Our women have an incredibly high aptitude for knowledge and a burning desire to never return to prison once they’re released. This is what motivates them. When I was a customer of Televerde, I described their abilities in this way: if our sales people knew our products as intimately as the women in Perryville, we’d have revenue growth quarter over quarter.

These ladies are highly proficient in the most cutting-edge technology on the market, and they learn both the hard and soft skills needed to close deals, communicate with c-suite executives, and collaborate with our customers’ sales and marketing teams. And they’re really good.

This level of change, transformation and learning isn’t easy. It’s work, and it requires true commitment. (President of Conscious Capitalism Brian Mohr recently visited one of our Perryville contact centers and observed this immediately, writing about it in his blog: Televerde Emphasizes the Conscious in Capitalism.) Our women bring their A-games, day in and day out.

Seeing Women for Who They Are Today

Imagine being judged for the rest of your life by the worst mistake you made on the worst day of your life.

I’d like you to really think about that for a moment.

Did you know this is how it is for more than 200,000 incarcerated women in the United States, regardless of how hard they are working to rebuild their lives? These women are grandmothers, mothers, wives, aunts, sisters, daughters, neighbors and career women. They matter. They deserve to be seen. And to me, they are the greatest examples of visionary women and deserve to be celebrated.

Throughout Women’s History Month, we’ll highlight several of our Televerde ladies in a social media campaign titled, #SeeMe. You’ll see their faces, read their stories, and hear their voices as they share their transformational journeys, hopes and dreams for a future now much brighter thanks to their perseverance.

In return for their openness, here’s what I’d like us to do for them.

Make a commitment to see these women for who they are today and recognize them for the changes they’re making to rebuild their lives and fulfill their human potential. Be a catalyst for them. This is what Women’s History Month is about—coming together as women without judgement and lifting each other up to create futures that matter and that profoundly impact our small corners of the world. I invite you to get to know them. I think you’ll find our differences are far less important than our similarities.

#SeeErica

Our next face will look familiar to many. It’s Erica Munoz, who works as a Sales Development Rep in our Santa Cruz call center at Perryville prison. Erica was one of our shining stars at TEDxPerryvilleCorrectional, where she gave a moving talk, #NotMeAnymore, about her life of codependency, abuse, promiscuity and hardship.

Erica’s remarkable journey of transformation, as well as her upbeat personality leaves an everlasting impact on every person she meets. See for yourself. #SeeErica.

What is one accomplishment you’re most proud of?

My proudest moment ever will always be TEDxPerryvilleCorrectional where I had the opportunity to share my story. After that, one of the greatest challenges I face every day is acceptance. But through hard work, I’ve learned to no longer value my worth based on the opinions of others. The only person I need to be good enough for is myself. While this journey of healing and acceptance is ongoing, I’m proud of how far I’ve come. Looking in the past is no longer an option. I use my experience and tools to motivate and inspire the women around me. Every day we support one another on the path of loving the women who we are today.

It’s said that the most successful women build a female tribe to help them learn & grow. Tell us about the culture on the inside and how you’re supported by the women around you.

The culture inside Perryville is unique in that I’m surrounded by strong, powerful women. We inspire and motivate one another to become the greatest version of ourselves. My group of friends is special because we each bring something different to the tribe. Heather brings out the bold and fearless side of me. Elissa brings out strength in me that I never knew I had. Brianna is the voice of reason and keeps me grounded. And Andrea reminds me of my faith in God. Their love and support make my journey to a bright future possible. 

How will you set an example to the young women of tomorrow?

I will not let my past define me, nor should anyone. Yes, I’ve experienced difficult times and made poor decisions, but I will continue to persevere, break down barriers and redefine what it means to wear orange. Society needs to see that we are human beings. We are more than our worst labels–the scarlet letters placed on us that endure long after release. It is possible to have a bright future. I wear the color orange because of choices I’ve made in the past, but these decisions do not reflect or define who I am today.

This Women’s History Month, what do you want to shine a light on?

I’d like to shine light on second chances. The women inside Perryville deserve an opportunity to showcase their transformational journeys and obstacles they’ve overcome. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing. We want to return home to our families, friends and communities. I’m not the same person who entered the walls of Perryville almost six years ago. Through healing and radical acceptance, I’ve grown in ways I never imagined. I do not want to be labeled as inmate No. 285027. Instead, I want people to #SeeMe for who I am today.

#SeeStephanie

Today, we’re traveling to the Department of Correction in Rockville, Indiana to celebrate the vibrant, resilient, her cup is always half-full Stephanie Taylor.

What’s one misconception you want to change about women who are incarcerated?
The world seems to think we are all bad people because of our incarceration. We made bad choices, but that does not make us bad women.

What did it take coming to prison to learn?
Prison has helped me find a true sense of self-worth. I’ve also found the strength to hold myself and others in my life accountable.

What is one accomplishment you’re most proud of?
Learning all of the advances in technology after being incarcerated for 10 years.

A woman from the past who inspires me is…
My mom is the one person from my past that inspires me. She perseveres through every struggle that comes her way and always comes out with a positive attitude.

A woman who currently inspires me is…
My younger sister Mindy. No matter her situation in life she never gives up. She strives toward her goals for future successes.

How will you set an example to the young women of tomorrow?
Someone who showed perseverance and strength through all my struggles.

How would you like to be remembered in history books?
As a woman who did not give up when things got tough in life.

This Women’s History Month, what do you want to shine a light on?
Being able to show who I am today, and not who and what society labeled me.

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