From Prison to Wealth in Business Ownership

Written by The Miami Times

Black Tech Week held its second annual tech conference last week, which brought several innovators and entrepreneurs to South Florida. One particular panel, called Prison to Wealth, shared the story of Frederick Hutson, CEO of Pigeonly. Hutson’s story not only shared how his company fills a white space in communications but also how he became a successful entrepreneur after serving a five-year felony charge.

“I wish this was around when I started. I wasn't aware of a community like this who supports minority founders who are building something,” said Hutson. The prison to wealth panel took place Thursday, Feb. 18 on Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay Campus. The panel was about the tech rush occurring in the prison correctional industry and how ex-cons can still be qualified candidates to work in the tech industry. The panel featured Hutson along with The White House Policy Advisor Dr. Marvin Carr and CEO of Opportunities Industrialization Center of Broward County, Newton Sanon. “One of the biggest myths is these individuals who serve time are going to do harm to people but really they are looking for a chance to be economically self-sufficient,” said Sanon. According to the NAACP, Black Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites. According to a 2015 report of the Human Rights Watch, Black males receive statistically harsher sentencing and three percent of all Black males in the United States are estimated to currently be in prison.

At age 24, Hutson was convicted for drug trafficking by distributing marijuana in St. Petersburg. He was moved around to eight different federal prisons during his incarceration. Hutson understood first hand the difficulty of staying in contact with his family on the outside. When he was released in 2012 the idea for Pigeonly was born. Pigeonly is a line of communication products that help people communicate with loved ones in prison for a very low cost. Some of the products range from pictures and articles that are shared from any device, is printed and sent to the facility they are being held, to local phone numbers that are generated to call the facility. Phone calls to prison facilities are done by the Federal Communications Commission. Previously, a call would cost up to $14 a minute. Pigeonly offers a month service fee as low as $1.99 a month. Only a few private companies are in the prison communication industry, which grosses $1.2 billion a year.

Besides the prison correction industry, the panel discussed why disconnected youth and adults still deserve a chance to learn science and technology to be self sufficient like anyone else. An individual's environment may be the biggest factor one can't help that lead to their decisions.

“It's easy for someone to say they will never cross the line but not everyone is presented with the line. For people who live in communities who are presented with that line everyday, it's very easy to cross that line,” said Hutson.

Hutson’s past made investors wary of him at the beginning but he used that momentum to keep going. Later, he surprised investors when pitching Pigeonly that there was a market for prison communication. The Opportunities Industrialization Center and My Brother’s Keeper are two programs here in South Florida to help members of the community who have been convicted. Opportunities Industrialization Center is a resource that arms ex offenders with vocational and workforce training. My Brothers Keeper is an initiative organized by President Barack Obama that encourages community leaders to create opportunities for at-risk boys and young men of color. “We have to extend an offer to ex-offenders to teach them computer science. Instead of giving them an apron or a hammer we can give them a keyboard and they can fill one of the 500,000 jobs in IT and keep them out the system,” said Dr. Carr.

Visit our business directory to view other black owned businesses in Miami.

Source: http://miamitimesonline.com/news/2016/feb/24/prison-wealth/

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