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Defy Ventures prison program coming to Mississippi

JACKSON, Miss. —

A national prison program aimed at turning around inmate's lives is coming to Mississippi.


Defy Ventures, founded by Catherine Hoke, seeks to break the cycle of violence, poverty and incarceration by equipping imprisoned men and women with the tools they need to learn entrepreneurial skills and create profitable careers.

"I was invited to prison 14 years ago, when I was 26 years old, and for the first time in my life I was exposed to the natural hustling skills of people in prison and I wondered what would happen if they were equipped to go legit with their skills," Hoke said. "Mississippi has some of the most progressive correction officials who understand punishment is not enough, but importance of (the) rehabilitation."

Defy Ventures pairs senior business leaders with inmates, better known has, EITs or "entrepreneurs in training."

EITs spend an average of 10 hours a week working with their business partners.

Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall said the program is just what the state needs.

"It talks about transformation of inmates, turning them into taxpaying citizens and not tax burdens for the state of Mississippi," Hall said.

Hall said she wants to change the stigma of corrections.

"Have people look at the Mississippi Department of Corrections as an avenue, that people who once made a bad decision in their life, that they have a second chance," she said.

Hall said it will take the entire community to make the program a success.

"It's going to take involvement of law enforcement, the lawmakers, the business leaders, the legal system and just the community, the faith-based community, to make positive change in our criminal justice system," said Hall.

Hoke and Hall hope it will give inmates the opportunity to re-enter society in a successful way.

MDOC officials said they will start the program at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County. They are working on a date to launch the program.