Formerly incarcerated man creates directory for formerly incarcerated entrepreneurs – The Hawk Newspaper

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Philadelphian Stacey Torrance, 48, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole at 14 years.

For some, this sentence would dissolve any hope of future efforts. But that was not the case for Torrance.

“When I was incarcerated, one of the things I did was weave my mind into life as a mental escape from my physical situation,” Torrance said. “So I was dreaming about things I wanted to do for my release.”

While incarcerated at Chester State Correctional Institution, Torrance eavesdropped on conversations among inmates who started their own businesses after their release. He began attending business classes taught behind bars. In those classes, he dreamed up the idea for the Free Mind Entrepreneurship Network, an online directory for entrepreneurs and formerly incarcerated employers looking to hire.

This directory not only provides newly released persons with business start-up support, but also provides parolees with a place to find job opportunities.

“One of the reasons a lot of men start their businesses is because they can’t find jobs,” Torrance said. “So in order for them to get a meaningful or important job, pay their bills, think about themselves and their families, they decided to become entrepreneurs and be successful.”

In 2017, following changes to laws regarding life sentences without parole for minors, Torrance was released from prison after serving 29 years. He first collaborated with St Joe’s Beautiful Social Research Collaborative on a project called Life After Life, which helped formerly incarcerated minors sentenced to life imprisonment reacclimate to society, before the pandemic interrupted work on the project.

In the fall of 2021, Torrance reached out to the collaboration to help with their new business idea, Free Mind.

The Collaborative, led by Aimée Knight Ph.D., Associate Professor of Communication and Media Studies, is a collaborative class where students and fellows in the Department of Communication and Media Studies work on multi-media projects in semester with nonprofit organizations based in Philadelphia.

Knight said the Free Mind Project is a partnership based on long-term, enduring commitment and a strong relationship.

“Life experience is their strength and a source of passion,” Knight wrote in response to questions from The Hawk. “Next year, I see Free Mind harnessing that strength and passion for good to mentor others who were navigating back-to-school and support advocacy initiatives.”

Maggie Tyndall ’22 has led The Collaborative’s Free Mind Project Group for two semesters now in her capacity as Foley Fellow for Media and Civic Engagement. Tyndall and his group created and customized social media pages and a website for Torrance to grow their business.

“We worked on branding, creating social media accounts, just getting the name out there,” Tyndall said. “It was a huge task, starting a whole new organization. It took all this semester. This spring, we worked on creating more video content and building the organization.

There are currently 10 entrepreneurs in the network, Tyndall said.

Anna Dorneman ’23, a member of the group working with Torrance this semester, said the goal was to increase engagement.

“I think he feels stronger about this network, and now he has a better base,” Dorneman said.

While their work with Torrance gave St Joe’s students the opportunity to gain experience in the communications field, the lessons Torrance taught resonated with them, Tyndall said.

“He said sometimes the worst thing that’s ever happened to you can be the best thing that’s ever happened to you,” Tyndall said.

Torrance said he sees a turnaround occurs for formerly incarcerated people as they move from being an employee in a desperate job search to being an employer.

“These people were children sitting to die in prison, some of whom were wrongfully convicted and served decades behind a prison wall,” Torrance said. “Now they are out and doing a great job in society.”

The Free Mind Entrepreneurship Network will continue to work with Beautiful Social for a third semester in the Fall 2022 semester to finalize a video currently in production.

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