WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - On Tuesday, 13 graduates received their diplomas after completing an eight-week business training course for people with a criminal record.
Isha Reed is one student graduating from the free course by the non-profit called Inmates to Entrepreneurs.
"I have two felonies," said Reed. "I made bad choices. They are nine to thirteen years old, but they made me who I am today, so I don't regret anything that I went through."
Reed said she heard a lot of "no's" when applying for jobs, school, and work with her criminal record. The "yes" from Inmates to Entrepreneurs has catapulted her on a new career trajectory.
"I'm going to start a non-profit called EPIC, Empowering People in Communities, for opium and PCP users," said Reed. "It'll be a 10-week program to help them reconnect their life with housing, jobs, life skills, and school."
Reed said she is a recovery PCP user and will celebrate five months clean January 2019. She is starting school to become a substance abuse counselor on November 5th and graduated from a business management course on Friday.
"I just want to give back the way that others gave back to me and let people know that you can have a second chance at life," said Reed.
The elegant evening of the graduation at 128 South included keynote speaker George Taylor, the TRU Colors Brewing Chair. TRU Colors Brewing Company employs active gang members.
Taylor shared his own story of going from a college dropout to the founder and co-founder of nine businesses. He encouraged the graduates to focus on their goals and prepare for challenges ahead.
A.J. Ware, Co-Chair of Inmates to Entrepreneurs, said the last eight weeks have been extra challenging for students because of Hurricane Florence.
"We did have the hurricane kind of break up the class a little bit. But that was a great learning experience for them for business, because things are going to happen. We just adjusted and got through it," said Ware.
The free 8-week class has modules on business mindsets, marketing, and sales, said Ware.
"We teach inmates how to start their own business," said Ware. "They don't necessarily have to have been in jail or in prison, it's for anyone who has any type of criminal record, probation, community service, anything like that."
For Tuesday's 13 graduates, their progress represents a new lease on life.
“It makes me feel good to know that there are others like me who experienced the same thing, and they moved past it, and they are entrepreneurs,” said Reed.
If you are interested in the 8-week business course for people with a criminal record, Ware said they plan to have another free course in about 6 months.
The entrepreneurship training has helped thousands of people in more than 50 correctional institutions since 1992, according to a press release.