How Prison Entrepreneurship Program Inspires Volunteer - Nina Godiwalla

In Chapter 3 of 14, "Suits: A Woman on Wall Street" author Nina Godiwalla volunteers at the Prison Entrepreneurship Program to teach convicted felons business and life skills necessary to successfully re-enter society. Through the process, Godiwalla unexpectedly learns from the prisoners, who share stories of mental transformation.


Erik Michielsen: What did you learn teaching character building and relationship skills to inmates as part of the Prison Entrepreneur Program?

Nina Godiwalla: I actually wrote an article about that for the Houston Chronicle because I was really moved by the experience. We were brought in with the idea that we were business leaders and we were going to be teaching these inmates about how to run a business and I was really excited about that, I thought these people are going to be coming out very soon and regardless of what they’ve done, it’s not a conversation about what did you do in past, it’s ‘hey you’re going to be out and you’ll be out soon and what can we come in and teach you and how can we help you be successful when you come out?’

That was my impression going in and that was a lot of business people’s impression, I think there was about thirty of us at the time when I went and I was a little bit floored by the experience because it ended up the prisoners taught us, at least me, something much more significant and it was largely about building their own character and… what was amazing is… these people were just so happy, they had really gone through like a significant mind-shift and mental transformation through this program that they were experiencing and they came in and honestly, I’ll be honest they really inspired a bunch of business people and the business people were completely humbled walking in and thinking ‘what can I teach you’ was our attitude and I walked out that day and I thought these were people full of passion full of energy. I never expected to walk into a prison and have people that passionate and that was a transformational experience for me. And you could see that these people, the way they shared their stories and were very open, they had personally, several of the ones that spoke had gone through some very difficult times and really used those difficult experiences to transform in a very positive way.

Erik Michielsen: Can you remember like one of the stories that sticks with you most?

Nina Godiwalla: There’s one story because it’s so close to heart for a lot of business people is that, there was just a guy that, he was a sales guy and he’d gone out drinking and the way he explained it is ‘That’s what we did, I was in sales and we used go out, we were with clients we would drink, came home, I had a couple drinks that night, I was on the freeway and I probably didn’t see it fast enough but there was a parked car on the freeway on the side’ and he ran into the car and killed somebody. And he said ‘You know, I’ve been in sales for forty years’ and… I think for business people we expected… expect someone to just be murdering people just randomly all these, you know, ridiculous thoughts and fears that were going through our head and it was just, a lot of the stories were, you know, some guy put software on his wife’s computer or girlfriend’s computer and was in jail so. What was insightful is that a lot of people were in situations that it wouldn’t be crazy for someone that you, someone in our world to know somebody that might be in that situation and just to give people that opportunity, that second chance.