This Black Woman CEO is Working to Fix the Prison System: ‘We Have Witnessed Hope Renewed’
Re-establishing life after incarceration comes with continuous challenges, especially for Black communities, who face major economic difficulties beyond the prison walls.
Alisa Malone, CEO of the national non-profit Persevere, works to provide quality job resources, training, and tools for inmates to become productive members of society post release.
Malone has worked across the public, private, and non-profit sectors in healthcare, labor, and workforce development, the carceral system, and social services.
She shared her research with BLACK ENTERPRISE and how she used technology to provide access to resources for successful reentry and reintegration to society through education, vocational training, rehabilitation, and substance abuse treatment services.
What is the mission behind Persevere?
Persevere’s mission is to disrupt the cycle of poverty and incarceration through technology education, life skills development, employment, and wraparound services.
Persevere is committed to providing justice-impacted individuals with access to resources, education, and career opportunities that lead to financial security. The goal is to empower people to change their lives, their families, and their communities.
Post-release, we offer 12 months of wraparound services such as employment support/mentorship as well as other wraparound services such as assistance with healthcare, housing, and transportation.
Persevere is committed to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty and incarceration, ending mass incarceration, and forging new pathways for access to economic opportunity for those who have traditionally been denied that access.
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Why is it important to have such support available for current and former inmates?
Approximately 700,000 to 800,000 people are released from incarceration annually. As they are reentering society they are faced with a multitude of obstacles with restarting their lives, including finding employment.
This is a serious problem because we know without employment basic human needs are unable to be met.
A major contributor to recidivism rates is the lack of resources or connection to resources that aid prisoners’ prosocial integration into the community.
A study that further emphasizes the value of Persevere and similar programs is one published by Deutsche Bank in September of 2020 titled America’s Racial Gap and Big Tech’s Closing Window. They conducted a bottom-up societal study and it showed that 76% of Blacks and 62% of Hispanics could get shut out or be under-prepared for 86% of jobs in the U.S. by 2045.
In order to defy this projection, it is critical to offer technology education to those reentering society to equip them with the skills necessary for current and future career opportunities.
What specific training and tools does Persevere provide?
Persevere teaches computer coding classes that lead to six levels of certification, including Front End and Full Stack Developer certifications which take place inside correctional facilities and in the community. We are also expanding our curriculum to offer additional technology education. including data analytics, project management, and cyber security just to name a few.
In addition, we offer reentry services to our program participants including; a career readiness curriculum, life skills, financial literacy, case management both during the program and for a year post-release. Post -release, we also assist with transitional housing, job placement, and mentorship.
With finding employment being one of the greatest challenges for former inmates of the Black community, how does Persevere work to provide job resources?
At Persevere, we have specific team members, called Technology Employment Specialists (TES), who prepare program participants to enter the workforce as confident professionals through career readiness training.
For example, TES team members assist with activities such as developing a resume and cover letter, providing interviewing skills training, and supporting participants in developing strategies for a healthy work-life balance. [They] also serve as a liaison between businesses, educators, and program participants to identify employment opportunities and help our participants succeed in their new careers.
Through the Persevere Volunteer Program, some volunteers offer mentorship to Persevere graduates.
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What are some of the challenges you face with providing these resources?
As we continue to scale, securing sufficient funding for programming is one of our biggest challenges. As a 501(c)3 non-profit, above and beyond our contracts and grants, we rely on charitable contributions. If you’d like to support us in this work of empowering justice-impacted individuals through technology education, life skills development, employment, and wraparound services, please donate to Persevere.
What advice would you give to those trying to re-establish their lives after prison?
Considering the fact that criminal justice involvement is not a part of my lived experience, I consulted with a member of Persevere’s leadership team, Stacey Books, who fully appreciates the experience of reentry and reintegration. Stacey advised that you create a plan prior to your release and work the plan upon release. She also advised that you be patient [and persistent].
We have seen these strategies work for our program participants. We have seen families reunified, relationships restored, and employment opportunities gained that lead to a livable wage. We have witnessed hope renewed.
How do you plan to expand your mission and work with Persevere?
In 2022 Persevere was awarded a Good Jobs Challenge Grant from the Economic Development Administration to support the work of the Tennessee Technology Alliance, which is comprised of over 72 partners. Over the next three years, the Tech Alliance will provide technology training, career readiness instruction, wraparound case management, job placement, and long term follow up and support services to over 1,700 Tennesseans. We expanded Persevere programming in Tennessee to justice-impacted individuals, individuals, and families living in poverty, youth 16-24, who are out of school and out of work, and youth aging out of the foster care system.
Furthermore, in 2022, the Unlock Potential Initiative was launched. UP is a partnership between Persevere and the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice (RBIJ), funded through Walmart.org Center for Racial Equity. The mission is to break the cycle of incarceration by providing meaningful employment opportunities to a statistically at-risk group of young people.