Start With Why by Simon Sinek was recommended to me by a fellow small business owner and mentor.
I rarely read this type of book, but I read this one because I imagined that some of you, dear readers, wonder about my “why” … why I started a business to support men and women who have been incarcerated, and why I care about criminal justice reform.
Spoiler Alert – it’s not because I’ve been to prison.
Because to me the US criminal “justice” system is, in most cases, a stark and frightening representation of the enormous and shameful inequalities in our country.
WHY? Because prison is not an equal-opportunity institution, and prisoners do not look like you and me. Despite the occasional Piper Kermans, Jean Harrises and Martha Stewarts of the world, prison is full of men and women who are “acutely disadvantaged to begin with” and land there thanks to poverty, poor education, intergenerational criminality, addiction, abuse, neglect, mental illness and racism.
WHY? Because some of my favorite people are felons. I have seen humanity, kindness, determination, humor and humility in men and women who have done some scary stuff . . . but they are not scary people. They’ve done their time, they’re ready to move on, and they deserve a second chance, but the system and our culture make this very difficult.
I’m choosing to focus on one piece of the criminal justice puzzle: re-entry (returning to the community from prison). OpportunityKnits helps to provide basic personal care items to men and women seeking employment after prison, many of whom have no resources and no one in their corner. A tube of deodorant or a bottle of shampoo may seem insignificant, but how many of us would want to face the day (or days) without them?
Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, said this in a recent interview:
"Today we see millions of poor people and folks of color who are trapped, yet again, in a criminal justice system which is treating them like commodities, like people who are easily disposable," Alexander says. "We are not on the right path. … It’s not about making minor reforms and plodding along in the same direction. No, it’s about mustering the courage to have a major reassessment of where we are as America, reckon with our racial history as well as our present, and build a broad-based movement rooted in the awareness of the dignity and humanity of us all."
My “why” isn’t really about tampons or toothpaste; it’s about restoring dignity and humanity to people who are trying – against all odds – to build a productive life after incarceration.
If this resonates with you, then you’re in the right place!