In 2017, I spent a year covering and reporting about the formerly incarcerated community of New York City. During the process, the seeds for my startup, Valiance Hub, were planted, and I’m proud to report it’s really starting to grow.
Valiance Hub, is an effort to provide a database of resources to ease re-integration. The Last Mile, an organization that trains and hires currently incarcerated people as software engineers, has agreed to partner with me in my effort. The Valiance Hub will be an online catalog that can compile a customized list of resources to benefit members and allies of New York City's re-entry community.
In April, I went out to the Oakland/Bay Area to work with representatives from The Last Mile on plans for developing the database and steps for execution. The Last Mile. helps prepare incarcerated individuals for re-entry using business and technology training.
While there may be less-expensive options for web development services, I’m excited to work with The Last Mile because at every step of bringing this project to completion, I want to engage those who have been involved with the justice system during every step of the development process. I’ve also launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund this project.
I took an interest in the formerly incarcerated community and the effort to reduce recidivism rates during my time studying for a master’s degree atJohn Jay College of Criminal Justice. It was an effort to carve a niche for myself as a journalist. Before this, I generally knew about injustices perpetrated by the American criminal justice system, but I didn’t know about the extent of its failure to rehabilitate the incarcerated.
While attending the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, I joined the social journalism program, which encourages reporters to immerse themselves in a community by using journalism as a tool for empathy and advocacy. The reporter listens to a community’s needs in order to find a story – rather than reporting on what the reporter thinks others should know.
I started focusing on the community of the formerly incarcerated – and in particular I looked at finding an entrepreneurial solution to the challenge of helping individuals with a criminal record become gainfully employed.
It is not a secret that employment discrimination occurs when one has a criminal record. Up to 75 percent of former inmates are unemployed within a year of release according to a survey by the National Institute of Justice.
I interviewed Coss Marte, a formerly incarcerated man who is now the founder and CEO of ConBody gym. It is a very popular gym and has a location in Saks Fifth Avenue. Not only does ConBody employ formerly incarcerated men and women, Marte developed a program where he goes inside prisons to train currently incarcerated people to become personal trainers so he can hire them upon release.
Throughout my reporting and research, I learned that there are plenty of entrepreneurial and other resources available for the formerly incarceated. But they can be tough to locate – especially for women.
Many of the women I spoke with had trouble finding housing, especially if they did not have children. They voiced frustration with programs geared toward their male counterparts. There didn’t seem to be enough services offering things such as help with regaining custody of children or mental health supports to deal with trauma experienced before and during incarceration. Moving around in this world with the possibility of judgement and rejection is tough for most people but it can be much harder for the formerly incarcerated. Not only are they completely starting over, in some cases they have a blemish on their record that will never go away.
I created the Valiance Hub to bring together all the re-entry services an individual might need in one, frequently updated website. Users will create accounts to keep track of their searches, save lists, and log their progress. The measure of success will be the number of accounts created and the amount of people who successfully connect to resources from our catalog.
Unfortunately, people who are currently incarcerated in prison will likely not have internet access. But the Valiance Hub can be easily accessed by an incarcerated individuals family, friends, parole officers or social workers. The plan is to make it easier for people to be allies of those currently incarcerated by helping them find the resources they’ll need the most.
I have a working relationship with Exodus Transitional Community. I presented a development prototype to a focus group of formerly incarcerated people there and received positive feedback on the idea and design. I hope to establish partnerships with other nonprofits already assisting individuals with reentry, such as The Fortune Society, Hour Children, and The Osborne Association. The Valiance Hub could become a go-to resource in their computer labs as participants search for employment or other necessities such as housing and healthcare.
Someone who has valiance, exudes exceptional courage in the face of danger or obstacles. That’s how I view formerly incarcerated people who are trying to reintegrate into society. Hopefully I can help them in their journey.