I’ve been in and out of prisons a few times. Let me explain. I work for the Charles Koch Institute. We have been dedicated for years to the discovery of new ideas that will improve the criminal justice system in America. This means achieving restoration for victims, as well as ensuring that people leaving prison have opportunities to reach their full potential. This is why I began visiting prisons across the United States and came to know Televerde. And given my experience in criminal justice reform, I can tell you this: the work that Televerde is doing with incarcerated women is powerful and transformational.
Televerde is a B2B sales and marketing company located in Phoenix, Arizona. The company partners with some of the most recognizable brands in the world, helping to accelerate the sales pipeline and drive revenue for their clients. They have nine call centers around the globe. One operates inside the Rockville Correctional facility in Indiana. Four operate inside the Perryville Correctional facility in Arizona.
A Fascinating Model
Televerde is a business founded on purpose. While at Episcopal Prison Ministries, its founder was challenged by the issues he had reaching inmates. From this, the idea to create a business behind prison walls was born. The company officially launched in 1994 with a six-person call center running out of an air-conditioned trailer at a minimum-security prison in Arizona. (Learn more about the history of Televerde in this video short.)
The call centers at Perryville and Indiana are all staffed by female inmates. The women hired, most of whom are starting without any business acumen or previous job experience, are trained in the basics of marketing. Sometimes referred to as a “mini MBA,” the company teaches them how to be consultative business partners for clients. They use a combination of in-class, online and study group-based learning to give women multiple avenues to develop and hone their skills. All women are trained in the most cutting-edge technology on the market, as well as the hard and soft skills needed to close deals, communicate with c-suite executives, and collaborate with client sales and marketing teams. They offer certifications and advanced career opportunities in all Televerde departments including executive level positions as women progress in their lives and experience.
Essentially, these women are taught marketable business and technology skills at the highest levels, which enable them to not only succeed in their roles while in prison, but also after they leave. (Read more about the model and results here.)
Televerde isn’t just doing good work, they are operating as a force for good and having a significant societal and economic impact. Consider this: since 1994, 3,000 women have been through the Televerde program with less than 5.5 percent recidivism. Compare that to the U.S. national average, which is more than 75 percent.
At the Charles Koch Institute, we’ve written extensively about the effects of reentry programs on recidivism. Televerde offers one of the most innovative programs I’ve seen.
An Experience Unlike Any Other
I had the pleasure of seeing this model in action and visiting with the ladies at Perryville who support it. I’d like to share with you three takeaways from that experience.
1. This isn’t your typical call center. Whereas many call centers assign a daily quota and their employees go off and start dialing, Televerde has built a different model entirely. The women are well-versed not only in the technologies they use to do their jobs, but also in the technology and infrastructure of the customers they are calling. This allows them to have those meaningful conversations that lead to qualified sales appointments. Their level of knowledge as it relates to business strategy, revenue, performance dashboards, and successful conversion of contacts to customers is very impressive. And each day, they’re actively engaging in discussions with c-suite leaders—CIOs, CTOs, CMOs. Think about that. A CEO in a plush New York City high-rise having a tech-driven sales call with a woman clad in orange and sitting inside an Arizona prison is mind-blowing. But it’s happening. These women so deeply understand their business and the businesses of their clients that you will quickly forget they are incarcerated. (FOX10 Phoenix recently ran a piece on Televerde’s operations at Perryville, which you can watch here.)
2. Real criminal justice reform begins by restoring people’s dignity. The ladies at Perryville and Rockville have access to the same learning and development opportunities as employees on the outside. For example, they may be hired as a Sales Development Rep but realize their passion is in another area of the business. They can skill up for the role they want, apply for an open position as you or I would, and then move on and up in the organization. They earn a fair market hourly wage, receive pay increases at regularly scheduled intervals, and can earn overtime. I have to think this makes them feel worthy of respect, which is critically important to their success post-incarceration. Bringing dignity to women and men behind bars and recognizing them as individuals capable of extraordinary things is the first step in improving our criminal justice system.
3. People thrive when surrounded by compassion. The ladies have a unique camaraderie … you see it immediately. They rise, fall, and pick themselves back up … always as a team. What I like is that this spirit is championed by the call center managers. The plainclothes men and women who work with them – coming in and out of the prison every day – have a genuine passion for what they are doing, as well as strong compassion for the women they are charged with supporting and guiding. In my conversations with the managers on site, I was impressed by how strongly they believe in the company mission, which is evident in the results they’re able to deliver on behalf of their clients and Televerde. You know you’ve tapped into something special when a culture is so strong it makes you forget you’re standing inside a prison-run call center.
Criminal Justice Reform Matters
As a country, we need to do more to drive real criminal justice reform and support people who are facing some of the biggest barriers to realizing their potential. I applaud the efforts of businesses like Televerde that have recognized the potential and talent within this community and have built a model that can support them, while delivering sustainable business, societal, and economic results. By sharing their story, I hope we can inspire other companies to support women and men with criminal backgrounds. One step businesses can take is joining Televerde in becoming part of SHRM’s Getting Talent Back to Work initiative, which is aimed at helping individuals in their community acquire a true second chance. As our founder, Charles Koch, said recently in regard to criminal justice reform, “If all of us joined together, think of what a difference we can make.”
I encourage you to learn more about Televerde, their alumni, and other great organizations that are working hard to change the perception of individuals with a criminal record and deliver meaningful second chances: After you share this article, make sure to go check out The Arouet Foundation, The Last Mile, Miles of Freedom, and Hudson Link.