CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Raleigh-based program "Inmates to Entrepreneurs" is changing the lives of people with criminal records, and the program will now expand to Charlotte.
"My felony was when I was 18," Raleigh graduate Isaiah Price said. "I don't have another one. But it's there."
Price has now come a long way from 18.
Back then, his father had gone to prison, and he felt he had to provide for the family.
"Anything I could do to make money I would do it," he said. "And some was bad, some was good."
Soon he too was behind bars, and like many, the felony mark was no benefit on a job application. He found the program "Inmates to Entrepreneurs" to help him learn to be his own boss.
"I took the good with the bad and just learned from my mistakes," he said. "And made my own lessons out of my own life."
Price and his girlfriend, Tatiana Townsend, now own Rose Gold Beauty, selling custom wigs. She sews, he sells.
"You sit in jail and you learn this isn't what I want to do, this isn't where I want to be," Price said. "There's a lot of people in there that are smart or wasted their talent, wasted their time, or just didn't have the guidance that they needed."
That is why founder Brian Hamilton started the free eight-week course, to give people like Price a second chance.
"They have failed. They know what that looks like, they've hit the bottom," Hamilton said. "Everything else looks good... that's the perfect place to cultivate someone being an entrepreneur."
Hamilton co-chairs the program with AJ Ware, a Raleigh entrepreneur who has a criminal record himself.
"We just want them to take what they've learned from the streets, clean it up, get a legit business and grow from there," Ware said.
The pair is now launching the program in Charlotte with 12 new students.
"If you go and create a way to make value for a set of customers, they don't care where you came from," Charlotte entrepreneur John McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin started Lockers Unlimited with his father and is one of the Queen City's first "Inmates to Entrepreneurs" mentors.
"We're not just recycling these people back through prison - which is expensive," McLaughlin explained. "What we want to do is turn them into taxpayers."
Back in Raleigh, Price is now paying it forward by helping friends while encouraging those in Charlotte to take a chance on the program that helped him, and take a chance on themselves.
"It's a big leap but it's worth taking. It's worth taking," he said. "You've got nothing but time. If you fail, try again."
The co-chairs want to take the course nationwide in the next few years.
Right now in Charlotte, they are looking for mentors to sign up to help. Anyone interested should visit the site here.