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This is the VOA Special English Education Report.
Getting a job can be especially difficult for someone with a prison record. So a prison training program in the American Northwest prepares women to start their own businesses.
The program is called Lifelong Information for Entrepreneurs, or LIFE. The training combines business and social skills. The women learn how to manage their time, set goals and settle conflicts peacefully.
Saresa Whitley is serving five years for assault at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, a women's prison in Oregon. She has a job waiting for her when she is released in January. But she also plans to start a small business with the knowledge gained from the months of class. She says she has learned a lot about how to write a business plan, how to communicate effectively, and how to listen.
Another inmate, Cynthia Thompson, is serving time for stealing someone's identity. She says preparing inmates to become "successful, accountable people" will be good for the communities they re-enter.
MercyCorps Northwest started the training program four years ago. MercyCorps is an international development organization. Doug Cooper is assistant director of MercyCorps Northwest. He says, "We were looking for ways that we could apply our expertise around economic development and small business management to populations that could use it. It's identical to what we do internationally."
MercyCorps Northwest has just started a LIFE program at a women's prison in neighboring Washington state. Doug Cooper says he hopes the idea will spread to prisons throughout the country.
The group says just three of the one hundred graduates of its training program have returned to prison. Graduates of the LIFE program have started businesses like cutting hair and selling handmade crafts at farmers markets.
One woman who served time for theft now runs an automobile repair business. Lori does not want her last name used; she says she worries what people might think if they knew she had been in prison. She stayed in contact with a MercyCorps mentor after she left prison. Together they found answers to questions about running a small business.