There Are a Lot of Broken Women Here. Can Training Them to Run a Business Save Them

By James Drew, The News Tribune

Tracy McGee is serving her third sentence at the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women, but she vows that this one will be her last.

Breena Johnson, an inmate at the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women, discusses her proposal to create a nonprofit group when she’s released. The group would provide services for the children of incarcerated parents. By James Drew.

Breena Johnson, an inmate at the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women, discusses her proposal to create a nonprofit group when she’s released. The group would provide services for the children of incarcerated parents. By James Drew.

Through a program offered by Tacoma Community College, McGee is earning a certificate in entrepreneurship. A new enhancement of the program’s curriculum is called Ready for Release, an eight-week course provided by Ventures, a Seattle-based nonprofit group. Inmates who are close to being released learn the basics of marketing, sales, financial management and operations so they can start businesses.

On Wednesday evening, McGee and 14 others made their pitches at the Ready for Release graduation ceremony. McGee, who grew up in Gig Harbor and is serving a sentence for possesion with intent to sell drugs, wants to become a painting contractor with her son, who is a dishwasher in Tacoma. He would paint and she would do the books and also try to get into real estate sales.

“The experience that I received here is women need to empower women. There are a lot of broken women here, and there’s a need for counseling services to build us up, and that’s what they’re doing,” she said in an interview. “They’re providing us with some ways to make a better life for us when we leave here, and to build up and strengthen our bonds with other people.”

GOAL: START A BUSINESS

Founded in 1995, Ventures provides training, capital and coaching to those “whom traditional business-development services are out of reach, with a focus on women, people of color, immigrants and individuals with low income,” according to Will von Geldern, the group’s director of advocacy and communications.

Offering a course at Mission Creek on the basics of business is part of Ventures’ strategy to serve “harder-to-reach populations,” he said.

“A lot of our model is being social workers for business; helping people start small businesses and move out of poverty, and we work primarily with women,” von Geldern said.

Ventures worked for two years with the state Department of Corrections and Tacoma Community College to start offering the Ready for Release program in 2018. A $15,000 state grant and $10,000 from an individual donor paid for the program. Ventures has raised about $50,000 to continue it.

“Our goal is to help you start a business,” the group’s executive director, Beto Yarce, told the inmates at the graduation ceremony. “That is why we exist. But we also connect people to a lot of opportunities. We know a lot of people out there.”

Wednesday’s event honored the second class to graduate. So far, 35 women have graduated from the program.

Tacoma Community College contracts with the state prison system to provide education programs at the two women’s prisons, Mission Creek and the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Purdy.

The Ready for Release program is like a “match made in heaven” with the entrepreneurship program at Mission Creek, said Sultana Shabazz, director of corrections education at Tacoma Community College. The community college selects the inmates from those who are pursuing the certificate of entrepeneurship. The inmates who have graduated from the course get access upon release to Ventures’ services, including loans, business courses and coaching.

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