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“There’s learning on both sides. Not only do the students learn, the teachers get to learn from the students … and to break down that barrier,” Freedom Through Business co-founder Adam Segal ’09 says.

Freedom Through Business

Achieving 'freedom through business'

A program founded by Kellogg students fosters the skills young inmates will need to thrive on the outside

By Aaron Mays

7/27/2010 - In February 2009, Adam Segal ’09, Brett Holcomb ’09 and Matthew Rall ’09 walked into a medium-security facility not knowing what to expect.

The students were prepared to deliver the first session of Freedom Through Business, an eight-week business course designed to teach incarcerated youth about personal finance, job readiness, communications and other practical skills.

Seated in front of the men were 12 teenage inmates in beige jumpsuits. A correctional officer was stationed in the corner. Segal, Holcomb and Rall approached the chalkboard. Both sides of the classroom buzzed with nervous excitement.

“One of my fears,” Segal later admitted, “was that I would lose [the students] right after I said hello.”

But by the time Segal, Holcomb and Rall completed their first class, they realized they were working with a group of energetic, appreciative teens. In fact, a student named Michael said the program ought to convene more often than once a week.

Segal, Holcomb and Rall co-founded Freedom Through Business while they were still students at Kellogg. Segal had been inspired by his experiences as a former education consultant for nonprofit and government organizations, where he learned about the struggles of incarcerated youth — a “forgotten population” that suffered from stereotyping and a lack of opportunities for personal development. The best way to combat those problems, Segal realized, was to educate incarcerated teens about viable job opportunities. The Kellogg students created a proprietary curriculum, which was reviewed by Kellogg faculty.

Many incarcerated youths come from impoverished neighborhoods with a high incidence of violence and drugs and a low quality of education. As a result, “when we asked the students about what jobs you can have on the outside, we heard two responses: working for McDonald’s or dealing drugs. There was no in-between,” says co-founder Holcomb.

Segal is not blind to the socio-economic barriers that thwart many of the program’s participants upon their release. But he believes the program can help young people cross those hurdles.

“Each week was a real opportunity [for us] to step outside [the academic bubble] and to contextualize what we were doing in class,” Segal says. “There’s learning on both sides. Not only do the students learn, the teachers get to learn from the students … and to break down that barrier.”

Freedom Through Business continued to grow over the past academic year under the new leadership of Kellogg students Dwetri Addy and Patrick Boyaggi (both ’10), while Segal and his co-founders provide strategic oversight for the program.

Addy believes that fostering “hands-on mentorship” with participants is the next step in reinforcing the organization’s mission.

“You can teach them these skills while in the facility, but there are certain realities the students face when they are back on the streets,” she says.

Freedom Through Business goes beyond teaching interview etiquette and filling out job applications; it inspires these teenagers to take a new risk — setting positive goals for themselves.

Laying out this new path will help these young inmates “understand that [their goals] are not impossible, but will take time,” Addy says.