Stanford gives ex-cons boost in starting businesses

8 spots per year

The class is limited to eight people a year who come highly recommended by the Reentry Council of San Francisco, a consortium of city and county law enforcement, public health and government agencies that assists parolees. Nonprofits, probation officers and Stanford alumni also suggest candidates.

Students are encouraged to focus on their futures, not their pasts, and refrain from talking about their crimes.

Applicants to Project ReMADE must be currently working or in school, have a high school diploma or GED, and have been out of jail or prison for at least a year. Most important, they must have a business idea.

Stanton was paired with an intellectual property lawyer and two Stanford students who helped him craft a mission statement and figure out funding, price points and a marketing plan. He had just completed the six-month CHEFS culinary training program run by the Episcopal Community Services in San Francisco when he was chosen for ReMADE.

“My mentors are a miracle,” Stanton said. “We talked about costs, how much do you charge and who do you sell to and how do you promote it? My passion is making candy, so I hadn’t really thought about the other stuff.”

Through his mentor connections, Stanton has shared his small-batch caramels at birthday and dinner parties on the Peninsula. New friends are helping him build a website, and meanwhile he is perfecting his recipes and giving candies to neighbors, to workers at Project Open Hand, where he volunteers, and to the employees at Hayes Valley Bakeworks, where he works part time.

“If you want a job, you have to make a job. No one is going to hand one to you,” said Stanton. “You have to give things away if you want things to come to you.”

Starting with a class paper

Project ReMADE was started three years ago by first-year law student Angela McCray, who was assigned to write a paper with suggestions to reduce California’s 67 percent recidivism rate.

“The main indicator of whether a person returns to prison or jail is employment, and there are all these barriers to getting a job if you have a criminal record,” said McCray, who is now a corporate attorney in New York.

She and Mukamal designed Project ReMADE and sent an e-mail blast to the Stanford alumni network to find volunteer mentors.

Since then, 19 ex-cons have gone through the program. Fourteen have graduated, and 10 are running their own businesses. (Three dropped out, and two have yet to present their business plan.)

One woman turned her prison upholstery skills into a business making jewelry, leather wallets and pillows from scrap metal, old jeans and other recyclables. She set up a table at the ReMADE graduation in May and sold $400 worth of her handcrafts.

Another graduate is now managing and promoting Bay Area musicians. One ReMADE student is working on a clothing line geared toward the queer community, and another graduate, Tyrone Mullins, was honored in June at the White House as a “Champion for Change,” for starting a Bay Area recycling business that now employs 18 people, many of them parolees.

“I applied to like 20 or 30 places after I got out of prison … hotels, McDonald’s, Macy’s, doughnut shops, Safeway, Jamba Juice, everywhere along Market Street and Church Street … no one called me back,” said Mullins, who served a two-year prison sentence.

(Next page: Preventing further crime)

Sign up for our newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Sign up for our newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

"(Required)" indicates required fields