Taking Our Knowledge to a Captive Audience

Published in UT San Diego, June 2, 2014

My book, “I’m There for You Baby,” contains 231 rules for entrepreneurial success, and the first one is the most important. It says, “Return every email and every phone call.”

Recently out of the blue, I got an email that floored me. Here is an excerpt:

“My boyfriend is currently incarcerated at the Consolidated Brig at Miramar … He is brainstorming several ideas post incarceration … Would you be interested in possibly teaching a course at the Brig?”

Come on, you can’t make this stuff up, and you cannot say no to that one.

And so began my continuing education. First off, Miramar is a very big place, and finding the right person was the first problem. Meet Michelle Davis, M.S., Offender Workforce Development Specialist. She is in charge of re-entry and transition. She wrote to me, “All (of the inmates) are looking for hope, inspiration, resources and guidance before taking the next journey in their lives.”

I am embarrassed to admit that I have never even thought about soldiers and the problem of re-entry, let alone prisoners. Barbara and I have taught our entrepreneurship class at UCSD for several years, and mostly our students are Ph.D. candidates in neuro, bio, computer science, nano, etc. — bright students with an excellent education and opportunities for entrepreneurial success. But now I was going to get a chance to meet some very different students — perhaps a bit less advantaged, but no less desirous of thinking about entrepreneurship. I did ask Davis what to call the attendees in my session. Her answer? “We call them prisoners.” Clearly, I had a lot to learn.

This column was written before I went to the brig, and next week’s column will be about my experiences. An important part of the story is “Marcia” — the woman with the boyfriend who wrote to Barbara and me.

She is 26, the youngest of six children and grew up in Los Angeles. She said that her father was “murdered on the streets of Los Angeles” when she was 19. She graduated from Cal State San Marcos, where she competed in track and field and held multiple jobs to pay for college.

While in San Diego, she met a Marine, “Steve,” and they fell in love. He was caught dealing drugs, and he has 10 months left to serve in the brig. An old story, but Marcia has big plans. She is passionate about making the world a better place. She has overcome a multitude of challenges, and she is committed to helping people “unleash their inner child” and fulfill their dreams.

So how did she get to Barbara and me? Well, it seems that U-T San Diego is distributed to the prisoners, and her boyfriend is an avid reader of our column. And Steve suggested to Marcia that she reach out to us. A blind ask.

But, let’s go back to Davis. In her email to us, she wrote, “Most individuals will have challenging criminal records and punitive discharges, but they want to talk about entrepreneurship.” Everyone wants to take charge of their life, to be reinvented, re-imagined, and I guess in some way, reborn. And I intend to try hard to meet that test at Miramar.

After all, our little angel investment company is called Blackbird Ventures. The name was inspired by the movie “The Maltese Falcon.” In the final scene, the local gumshoe asks Humphrey Bogart, who is holding the heavy bird, just what this black dingus is anyway, and Bogart says, “It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.”

It is the stuff of entrepreneurship — the hunt, the search, the adventure, the lust, the revenge — and of course, yes, always, the girl (in my case I did get Barbara Bry, so on that score, I won.)

Next week, I will share the story of Steve and my captive audience.



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