Transitional Employment Leads to a Full and Free Life

Project Return envisions a full and free life after incarceration by creating employment opportunities for Nashvillians to support themselves economically and overcome systemic barriers.

Project Return began in 1979 when two visionary Nashvillians decided to intercept the fear, contempt and barriers to opportunity that people face after incarceration. The prison system in the South is a direct descendant of slavery and iterations of racial and economic oppression, and mass incarceration is a foundational pillar of structural racism. People are often released from prison with no money or job prospects, are discriminated from housing and are statistically destined to return to prison.

Project Return hopes to stop this cycle and flip the narrative through their social enterprise models that specialize in reentry to society: PROe, PROPS and PRO Housing. In line with the founders’ vision, Project Return serves hundreds of people each year and embraces everyone as individuals of worth, dignity and potential, regardless of their gender, race, education and type of convictions.

PROe and PROPS amplify employment opportunities by hiring people who have voluntarily sought out Project Return upon release from prison. PROe staffs the worksites of employment partners. PROPS is a property services company with dedicated crews of transitional employees providing landscaping, janitorial/disinfecting and make-ready services to corporate and nonprofit customers. Finally, PRO Housing is an affordable housing social enterprise model that acquires and rehabs homes to lease at below-market rents to people who’ve come through Project Return’s employment programs. Through these three initiatives, Project Return has developed 23 homes and transitionally employed more than 1,500 previously incarcerated individuals — opportunities from which they would otherwise be excluded.

One of those transitional employees was James, who came to Project Return after 23 years in prison, spending just one weekend with his family before seeking out opportunities to work. He successfully completed Project Return’s Job Readiness classes and was assisted in getting new IDs to facilitate his hiring process. Through PROe, James was given work clothing and tools which enabled him to earn money and continue learning on the production floor. Project Return coordinators were supportive throughout the transition, providing a listening ear while driving him to and from work. After four months, James gained long-term employment with another company in Nashville and began the yearlong Job Retention program at Project Return. His future is bright!

Project Return joined SEA in 2013 while honing the business model for their first social enterprise. Over the years, SEA membership has been key to their connectivity with local enthusiasts and the national social enterprise movement.

To learn more about Project Return, check out their member directory profile.

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