From Convict To Entrepreneur: Defying Labels By Empowering Change


During my graduate studies in applied sociology, my concentration was on deviant behavior.  I spent a good amount of time examining the role of deviance in society and how it contributes to the workings of a functioning social system.   Everything from soda fountains, Jazz music and “reefer madness” to juvenile delinquency and criminal behavior.

One of the macro theories in sociology, Labeling Theory, says that in a social system, individuals are given primary labels that help identify their role in society.  Most people do take on many roles and many labels depending on their context…but there is typically one that is recognized by most and that is the one that will define your social standing.  That label serves to set expectations not just for your behavior, but also to serve as an example or benchmark of what that person should expect from others.  Your label is almost like your uniform:  businessman, overachiever, holy man, visionary –  OR – troublemaker, delinquent, problem-child, etc.

And the thing about those labels is we tend to live up to them – whatever label is thrust upon us tends to translate internally and we live up to it – for better or worse.  In the case of people who are labelled “criminal”, they tend to carry that label for life.  Even if someone achieves that label based on one misstep and pays for their crime, they tend to still be seen by society as a criminal for the rest of their life, which goes a long way in explaining the astounding recidivism rates for ex convicts.

I recently discovered a program, through my friend Anna Akbari at Sociology of Style, that seeks to give ex-felons a way to change their label – from criminal to entrepreneur!  She volunteers for this program that mentors and provides opportunities for ex convicts who want to start a new professional life to get trained and earn seed money to start their own businesses. I was excited to hear about this program – as I am a big fan of defying the system and changing the rules. 🙂

It is called Defy Ventures.  Here is some information about this innovative program from their website – which  is targeted at the ex felons who they seek to help:

The Program

MBA-like training, real business plan competitions, and real money.

After completing a 45-day introductory training during evenings and weekends, you can be one of the 60 committed applicants who will qualify for a prestigious internship with Defy and the chance to pitch a business concept to investors for a 1 in 4 shot at winning $3,000 in seed funding. During the 3-month paid internship, you’ll launch a business in partnership with Defy’s executive mentors and trainers, and present your results to investors in a final business plan competition where $100,000 in additional funding will be on the table.

Career placement.

Entrepreneurship not your thing? If you’re serious about making it in sales, customer service, technology, management, or nonprofit leadership, Defy’s business and leadership training and its devoted private sector network will lead you into high-impact careers. Defy will introduce you to employers and support you every step of the way.

Community leadership.

Want to contribute to your community? Today’s most respected entrepreneurs do more than just lead for-profit businesses. Use your training to champion community projects and inspire young people who will look to you as a role model.

About Defy

Defy’s leadership is no rookie when it comes to entrepreneurship—our founder is a former venture capitalist who launched another similar entrepreneurship program that created 500 success stories. 60 start-ups owned by men with felonies. Career placements that, for some, led to earnings of $100,000 in their first year out of prison.

As a nonprofit organization, Defy Ventures partners with forward-thinking donors and supporters who want to give you the opportunity to realize your dreams. You bring the commitment; Defy will cover your tuition.


I hope to get  involved with Defy very soon and participate as a mentor in their program – which has proven extremely succesful in not only helping create a large number of new businesses but also in reducing recidivism rates among participants to the single digits!  For more information or to donate to Defy, visit their website:

Defy Ventures program


Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Culture, labeling theory, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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