Behind Bars, Prepping for Life…as an Entrepreneur?

The State of Oregon Department of Corrections, partnering with several other sponsors, has promoted a different paradigm for inmates in its Coffee Creek Correctional Facility. MercyCorps of the Northwest (MCNW) is spearheading an effort there to teach self-employment and microenterprise development skills to women in prison who are up for parole within 18-24 months.

LIFE (Lifelong Information For Entrepreneurs), as the program is (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) named, helps students establish productive lives after incarceration. Benefits to society include reducing repeat offenses, lowering law enforcement costs, and the burden to society of paying for people to be locked up when they could be out in the workforce or creating small businesses.

Participants in the LIFE program work with mentors before, during, and after their release from prison. Thanks to a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation‘s Local Funding Partnership, participants are actually rewarded with up to $500 to help them with reentry. The money comes with strings attached…students have to execute a savings plan, consistently attend programs and courses, complete homework, and complete a business plan.

Watch a video of the program here:

If successful, the program should have many supporters and has real potential to be rolled out nationwide.

Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business (McGraw-Hill), and covers green business strategy on

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Scott Cooney, Principal of and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill, November 2008), is also a serial ecopreneur who has started and grown several green businesses and consulted several other green startups. He co-founded the ReDirect Guide, a green business directory, in Salt Lake City, UT. He greened his home in Salt Lake City, including xeriscaping, an organic orchard, extra natural fiber insulation, a 1.8kW solar PV array, on-demand hot water, energy star appliances, and natural paints. He is a vegetarian, an avid cyclist, ultimate frisbee player, and surfer, and currently lives in the sunny Mission district of San Francisco. Scott is working on his second book, a look at microeconomics in the green sector.In June 2010, Scott launched, a sustainability consulting firm dedicated to providing solutions to common business problems by leveraging the power of the triple bottom line. Focused exclusively on small business, GBO's mission is to facilitate the creation and success of small, green businesses.