This Call Center Company Relies on a Workforce of Incarcerated Women to Help Companies Like Microsoft, SAP, and Dell Power Their Sales and Marketing

By Rosalie Chan, Business Insider

eleverde trains and employs incarcerated women in Perryville, a prison center in Arizona. Televerde

eleverde trains and employs incarcerated women in Perryville, a prison center in Arizona. Televerde

When Erin Ford, 28, was still incarcerated in Perryville, a women's prison center in Goodyear, Arizona, she would see a group of women still in their prisoners' uniform, leaving the facility gates every morning.

These women were off to work at Televerde, a sales and marketing company that works with the Department of Corrections in Arizona and Indiana to provide call center jobs for currently incarcerated women — and provide jobs for some of them upon their release. Televerde counts tech giants like SAP, Adobe, Microsoft, and Dell as clients.

"I wanted to know how I could be a part of that," Ford told Business Insider. "It was kind of like, a position up on a pedestal for anyone that was incarcerated...It was an opportunity to get out of the yard every day.

Since it was founded about 25 years ago, Televerde says that it has employed 3,000 incarcerated women. After their release, they have the possibility of getting hired with Televerde for a full-time role. Indeed, today, about half of Televerde's workforce at the headquarters in Phoenix are former Perryville inmates.

Televerde says that when it hires inmates, it doesn't ask applicants for any information about their crimes, following a "don't ask, don't tell" hiring practice.

Televerde now has eight contact centers, five of which are staffed entirely by incarcerated women from prisons in Arizona and Indiana. To a visitor, it might look like any other call center — except the employees are all wearing orange.

We spoke to four women — three who were former inmates at Perryville, and one current prisoner there — about what it's like to work at Televerde.

A day of work at Televerde

Televerde says these employees are paid an hourly wage, which starts at federal minimum wage and includes time and a half for overtime. They have immediate access to one-third of their wages for discretionary spending. Another third goes to the Department of Corrections and the state to pay for room and board, as well as fines, restitution, child support or room and board, if applicable. The remainder goes into a savings account.

Valerie Ochoa, who is currently incarcerated at Perryville, now works as an inside sales representative for Televerde. Over the last three years, she's worked her way up the ranks — she even spoke about her experience at a TEDx event at the prison.

Ochoa works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. At work, each employee has her own desk, cubicle and computer at work, and during the day, she'll call clients and assist them through the customer life-cycle.

"Once I step into Televerde, I'm no longer an inmate. I take that hat off and I'm a professional," Ochoa told Business Insider.

While at Perryville, Ford, who was released in 2015 and now working at Televerde, studied for her GED specifically so she could get a full-time job after her release. She saw it as a chance to make good on her past mistakes.

"Growing up I had a really strong sense of family but a not-so-strong sense of self," Ford said. "I was a bit lost, and it led to me making poor choices."

Not every Televerde employee is a former or current prisoner — the company does hire through more conventional avenues, too. Televerde CEO Morag Lucey says that the company looks to ensure there is equality at the company between current and former prisoners, and anyone hired from outside

"There is a feeling that they're not as good as some people on the outside because they are incarcerated," Lucey told Business Insider. "They're working to understand they are absolutely capable of participating within the company and society. It's empowering them to feel like they have a voice and a purpose."

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