This past Monday was the mentor day for Defy. We are halfway through the curriculum and about to start the business planning phase. They brought in business people from around the area and the country (one was from Texas) to sit down with us one-on-one and give us feedback on our resumes, personal statements, and business ideas. It was sort of like speed dating. We would sit down across from one of the mentors and we’d have 10 minutes to present and get feedback on one of the three areas. It was also very high energy; Defy likes to “pump up the volume” to get people motivated so there was loud music, “love bombs” and much sharing. We even had lunch in the visiting room with the mentors. The brought in Subway sandwiches (I bet Jerrod would find it ironic if he participated in Defy. LOL!). I mentioned that I was gluten intolerant to the event planner and she arranged for a special meal for me. Since she didn’t remember if I was also vegetarian what I got was a bowl of plain spinach…with no toppings. But I was able to get a couple of sections of the big sub sandwiches and put the meat on my spinach and used the vinegar and oil packets that came with the sandwich as dressing. It was the first fresh salad I have had in over 2 years and it was delicious. *smile* I also got some great feedback on my business idea.

So here’s the current state of my business idea and the feedback I got. I had initially planned to do something like those “paint your own mug” date night place but instead of mugs I would teach people to make their own soap. This business model would appeal to millennials because it is an experience rather than just a product. It also would appeal to those into craft products. The product, soap, is also used up so it is possible that I might get repeat customers if they would rather not buy the equipment and supplies for themselves. Of course I would also sell the equipment and supplies if they did want to make it at home. However, the problem is that Defy requires your business idea to have a startup cost of under $20K and a business that requires a storefront is unlikely to meet that criteria. So I adjusted my plan to be scalable and have 3 phases.

1st I would start making custom-made soaps to order. You tell me the ingredients you want in your soap, the oils, scents, colorants, etc, and I make it and ship it to you. After watching a soap making show on PBS I realized how impressed people can be by personalized packaging so I would allow people to customize the packaging to their desires. Including naming the soap and package design options. One of the mentors had a daughter preparing for her wedding and suggested I offer monogrammed soap because his daughter was buying monogrammed everything. Great idea and easy enough to implement with the proper mold! So that’s the starting phase of the business which I should be able to get going for between $2K and $5K. Once I am generating revenue I will launch phase 2.

Phase 2 will start with pop-up events where I do the soap making classes at crafts fairs and/or community centers and will eventually move to a permanent location (while still doing events). One mentor even suggested an event called Junk Stock, a crafts fair that occurs regularly here in NE. A fellow inmate suggested using community centers for pop-up classes. He said that the Ralston community center allows for-profit businesses to use their center for events at no charge. All great suggestions.

The final phase 3 will be after I’ve established a couple of locations and proven a working business model. Then I will franchise the business with all the franchise income going to a foundation which give forgivable loans to formerly incarcerated individuals to start their own soap making businesses, or maybe even other business ideas. The loans would be forgiven if they “pay it forward” and give an equivalent load to another felon to start their own business or if they hire a certain number of felons as employees. That model would maximize the foundations impact by leveraging all those who benefit from it to help others and so on.

Probably the most impactful advice I got from a mentor was to lead with compassion. Start my pitch by explaining the goal is to help others and incorporate giving, helping and compassion into each phase. So in phase 1 I would look to use natural and sustainably grown oils (no palm oil that cuts down orangutan forests for instance) plus as I add employees at least 50% will be felons. In phase 2 I will offer classes for free for those that are less advantaged, such as those in the city mission, or as classes for school kids to learn hands on science/chemistry (led by someone else of course). With some socially conscientious goal at every step the overall goal becomes compassion. *smile*

I would say I not only enjoyed the mentoring day a lot but I benefitted from it greatly.

Since Monday we haven’t had Defy classes all week so I took advantage of the break to read a fun book. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. It is a much simpler book on astrophysics than Steven Hawking’s The History of the Universe in a Nutshell. No math and the concepts are explained simply enough for the non-astrophysicist to understand. I enjoyed it and it expanded my understanding of why current cosmology requires both “dark matter” and “dark energy.” Even though he gets a bit moralistic in the last chapter (and I agree with his position) I would highly recommend it for those in a hurry or those just curious to understand the cosmos better. *wink*

Today mom, dad and McK came to visit. It will be my parents’ last visit for some 6 months and it was Mother’s Day so I was very happy to see them. I had sent mom a “bouquet” of origami flowers in the mail this past week and I released some origami lotus flowers (though they looked like artichokes or bloomin’ onions LOL) for her to pick up on the way out. I also included a purple crochet stuffed elephant that someone traded me for some necklaces. I figured McK might find it cute and enjoy it. Normally they don’t get the property to be released until they leave but today they got it as they came is so as soon as I sat down McK asked me whom the purple elephant was for. I told him it was for him and he asked why. I told him because I thought he would think it was cute but I should have said because I love you. *smile*

During the visit I asked McK if he had seen the new Childish Gambino music video and not only had he seen it but so had my parents. I would very much like to see it but no internet in here. *sigh* Later we were talking about TV shows and McK said he should start watching Atlanta. I had wanted to discuss Atlanta because in spite of being really sad or outright depressing I’ve become addicted to the good story telling. I launched in to a deconstruction of an episode where the rapper character, Paper Boy, is hanging out with his girl and complaining that she’s too into the “fake” social media stuff. He storms out and on his walk home encounters 3 young “fans” who end up mugging him. While running from them he gets lost in the woods, encounters a crazy homeless man and by the time he finds his way out of the forest to a convenience store where he’s confronted by a fan who wants to take a selfie with him, he has changed his tune and is happy to pose with the kid, bloody lip and all. I wanted to point out the parallels with chivalric tales. The hero encounters some obstacle (a mugging), gets lost in an other-worldly forest where he has mystical encounters and comes out a changed man. I never thought my English and Medieval & Renaissance Studies majors would pay off in interpreting a TV show…but they did. Now imagine my surprise when McK points out to me that Childish Gambino and Donald Glover, the writer and main actor in Atlanta, are the same person. Whoa, mind blown! And yes, I am that illiterate when it comes to pop culture. *chuckle*

The other TV show that has been warping, if not blowing, my mind is Legion. I got to see a part of one episode from season 1 but when season 2 started I thought I’d see if I could jump in. I described the experience to McK as taking MDA before going out to a rave, dropping some shrooms while on the dance floor, and then tripping on some acid while relaxing in the tub afterwards. It stretches the twists your mind into interesting shapes so it’s just as interesting to analyze the shows effect on you as it is to try and figure out what the frack (another TV reference, get it?) is going on in the episode. LOL! The most recent episode follows David, the main character and super powered son of Professor X, through several different timelines so see other possible outcomes of his life before coming back to the timeline we’re in and fast-forwarding to where, or when, we are now. It was not only challenging to keep up with the jumps between timelines but also the jumps back and forth in time in each timeline. But the most interesting part was my initial personal reaction. I questioned whether someone’s personality would vary that much across timelines. Are we really that much of a product of our experiences or is there some core to use that would be consistent across all versions of ourselves. I personally hope that we are more consistent than David was across timeline (though, of course, he has an independent personality living inside of him so that makes a difference). Not only did the episode challenge me to keep the storylines and timelines straight but I also ended up asking the “meta” question of why do I think (or hope) that personality is more stable than depicted? I think we all would like to believe we would be basically the same person even under significantly different circumstance, but is that really true? It challenges my concept of myself to even try and picture me being a monster under different conditions (some would call me that now *chuckle*), but if I’m being 100% honest I have to admit that it’s at least possible. Much like Atlanta, Legion make me uncomfortable sometimes…but that’s a sign of good writing. *smile*

I am submitting a kite to apply for one of 8 new positions they are offering us in housing unit 1, PC. TSCI has a vegetable garden in the NW corner of the property, right next to the GP housing unit 3. In the past the garden was tended by guys from GP but this year they are offering us in PC the chance to work in the garden. Now, I love gardening and would normally jump at the chance to work in a garden, even an institutional garden, but I’m hesitant this time. There are 2 majors reason. 1. When working in my own vegetable garden I can decide it’s too hot out and go inside to the air conditioning and have a lemonade. I expect that if we are scheduled to be working in the garden we will be locked out there for however long we are supposed to be there with no option to get out of the sun and heat. *sigh* 2. They didn’t list the hours for the gardening job so I have no idea how much time this will take out of my schedule.

You might say “But Robert, you’re incarcerated. Surely you have more than enough time to work the garden and you should be happy to keep yourself busy.” Well, that might be true for most incarcerated individuals but not for me. I have actually filled my schedule to the point where my cellie is alone in our cell most of the time. I am enrolled in 3 education/rehabilitation programs and mentor for another plus I’m a founding officer for newly chartered Toastmasters club, the first ever club of any kind for guys in PC. The 3 programs I’m in are: Defy, the entrepreneurial program I mentioned before which goes till mid/late Aug. Reentry 180, which offers the Metro Community College classes which are paid for through the new Second Chance Pell Grants. We are currently in the 2nd class, an intro to MS Office. I’m teaching the teacher things she didn’t know and acting as the TA to help all the other students with their assignments when I’m done with mine. I just started the 3rd program last week. It’s called Success Prep and it is taught by LaVon Williams, a former lawyer from Omaha who helped a client evade taxes for 2 years. When she finally decided she couldn’t break the law anymore her client tried to blackmail her and demanded money. LaVon turned herself in knowing she would be disbarred but expecting a slap on the wrist since she was coming forward and admitting to the crime. She got 3 years in club fed and once she got out she started working for and eventually founded a non-profit to help incarcerated people learn to use their time more productively. Luckily for her, her husband ran a large construction firm in Omaha so she has the financial luxury to be able to pour her energy into a non-profit. At one point she came across a couple of clients with considerable construction skills and she suggested to her husband that he hire them. He said he didn’t hire felons. He spent the next month living in the basement as she wouldn’t let him come upstairs. LOL! Eventually he made amends by offering to set up a construction skills boot camp for her non-profit which runs in Omaha 4 times a year. I like her story and her message but I’m afraid she may have already taken a dislike to me. She admits her ego is what got her in trouble with the law and I suspect that I might threaten her (quiet) sense of superiority in the classroom so I’m trying to play it low-key. The class is only 4 more weeks so I think I can manage. *chuckle*

The bottom line is at least for the next month I’m pretty busy with classes still and even without classes I fill my time productively with reading and writing so the gardening job would definitely cut into that. However, as the good Buddhist knows, nothing is permanent. The gardening job would only be through the summer into autumn and I think it would be emotionally healthy for me to get my hands in the soil and grow something so I’m applying for it. I can always turn it down if I change my mind and I’m sure there are over 100 other applicants they could replace me with so why not take a chance and see if I get offered the job. *smile*

OK, wrapping up to watch Into The Badlands. 🙂