More than a decade ago, I made a series of terrible decisions that ended in a felony conviction and a 6-year prison sentence. When I first entered the Arizona Department of Corrections Perryville, I didn’t allow myself to imagine what my future held. It felt like I had thrown my professional life away.
Today, I’m a senior manager at Adobe, a computer software company. I’ve built an incredible career in an industry I’m passionate about. And none of that would have been possible had it not been for the job I had while incarcerated.
For most of my time at Perryville, I worked for Televerde. It’s a sales and marketing services company, and a significant portion of its workforce is composed of incarcerated women in Arizona.
Prison labor needs reform, but Televerde does it right
That last part often draws scrutiny from critics of prison labor. I’ve seen the recent discourse about for-profit companies using prison labor in Arizona. It’s immediately labeled as exploitive, but sometimes the analysis doesn’t go deep enough to give a more representative and balanced view, as was the case in The Republic’s series, “Prison Sell.” .
I say this as someone who acknowledges that changes are needed within the prison system, especially when it comes to prison labor. But I can tell you from firsthand experience that Televerde is a company doing it right and their commitment to uplift the incarcerated community is both legitimate and effective.
I applied to work for Televerde about three months into my sentence at Perryville. It was the best-paying job available, and I saw it as an opportunity to establish savings to help me restart my life upon release. It was also the only opportunity available that I felt would allow me to continue to build business skills and on-the-job experience that could lead to a meaningful career after prison.
I was hired as a reporting and systems analyst. I saw the position for exactly what it was: an opportunity to learn, grow and stay current with technology trends and applications. Perhaps most important, it was a position that gave me a purpose. I don’t know how I would have survived my prison stay if I didn’t have Televerde.
Their business model offers second chances
The women I worked with were diverse in terms of education, experience and ethnic background.
The support I received from the company and my colleagues inside of prison and after my release was, and still is, very impactful in my life. That’s why I am active with the Televerde Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Televerde’s business, as a mentor to fellow graduates. I pay it forward to make a difference in the lives of women who come after me. When we are hired, we are uplifted. We are told we are valued and that we are more than our worst mistakes.
There is no other prison program like Televerde that I know of that affords opportunities to women. I, along with many of the other women who have graduated from the program, have left with the skills needed to achieve lucrative roles in tech, marketing, sales and more at industry-leading companies.
Many of those are enabled by the strong relationships the company builds with its clients. And many of Televerde’s clients strongly believe in its second-chances business model. I saw executives from our client organizations express genuine interest in our success, going above and beyond to interact with our teams and then hire us as we are released.
I wouldn’t be where I am without this
Working for Televerde wasn’t easy. You need to put in the hours: learning, studying and sacrificing. I moved on from my analyst role to become a junior client success manager. That was the turning point that set me on the path to where I am today. I would not have a career in my current field had I not gone to prison.
Televerde has graduated more than 3,500 women from its prison program. The overwhelming majority have gone on to build thriving professional careers in business, something once unthinkable for anyone with a criminal past.
The experiences of a handful of women cannot possibly be what defines Televerde’s 27-year model, just as we would never allow a small few to define any company not using prison labor (a quick scan of Glassdoor will show vastly different employee experiences even for the most beloved companies).
The most authentic companies continue to evolve and adapt, improving the experience for all their employees. As someone still engaged in the nonprofit work of Televerde, I know Televerde to be this type of company, and there are thousands of women who have also been through the company’s program who would back me up.
Lorena Fortuna is a senior manager of demand generation for Adobe. Lorena graduated from Televerde’s prison-to-workforce program at the Arizona Department of Corrections Perryville in 2015. Reach her at Lorena01@gmail.com.