Mother-daughter team of Teresa Hodge (right) and Lauren Leonard (Courtesy photo)
Mother-daughter team of Teresa Hodge (right) and Lauren Leonard (Courtesy photo)

To prove that ex-offenders can be rehabilitated, Koch Industries is supporting the production of the “Success Beyond Bars” video series, which profiles ex-offenders who have become successful after release.

One of those profiled is Teresa Hodge, co-founder of the Baltimore-based nonprofit organization Mission: Launch and CEO of the for-profit service R3 Score.

Hodge, who herself was once incarcerated, has now gone on to become a successful entrepreneur. She founded Mission: Launch with her daughter Laurin Leonard after serving an 87-month prison sentence.

“Transitioning from prison to freedom was challenging for me,” Hodge said. “Even though I mentally fought to maintain dignity while behind the gates, when I was released from prison, I initially found it difficult to process and receive random acts of kindness, human decency and courtesies from strangers. Yet I was filled with so much gratitude when I was treated as normal.”

Hodge has become a passionate advocate for people with criminal connections, and she said she’s committed to reducing the lasting harm caused by prison.

Her nonprofit assists as many as 15 returning citizens each year and focuses on introducing technology and entrepreneurship to previously incarcerated individuals as a way of ensuring self-sufficiency.

Additionally, the organization manages the Rebuilding Re-Entry Coalition, a citizen-led movement committed to creating a more just and inclusive society for returning citizens.

Hodge also plays a critical role in building strategic partnerships and establishing social enterprise models for greater reach and sustainability.

“I left prison 100 percent committed to building solutions that would help me and help other people,” said Hodge, who’s also a certified life coach. “Not one person I encountered in prison said they can’t wait to be released so that they can come back. Obviously, there’s a disconnect — people would say they can’t get a job and they can’t reconnect back in the community and I’d hear all the ways they feel challenged and I think somewhere in those moments of being hopeless, bad decisions were made or individuals just went back to doing what was familiar.”

A big part of her mission is offering hope and an opportunity.

“That’s what people need, an opportunity which gives them hope, and for many that means showing them how to become entrepreneurs,” she said.

Hodge was profiled in Black Enterprise magazine in which it was noted that her organization received a $50,00 Small Business Administration grant in 2014, to help respond to the needs of the roughly 70 percent who have served time in prison and are unable to find employment.

While Mission: Launch is just one of the two businesses started by Hodge and her daughter, Black Enterprise reported that it appears that their most powerful financial game changer will be R3 Score — which can be thought of as a FICO score for the formerly incarcerated. It allows for a chance to level the playing field for ex-inmates who seek financial security by means of entrepreneurship.

“Often when bankers do a credit check or a background check, they find out that you have an arrest or conviction record,” Hodge said. “In finding out that information, they are uncomfortable with giving you money.

“I am not a techie. I don’t know how to code a line but I brought a software engineer in and asked, ‘Could this rubric be turned into technology?’” she said. “He said yes, and we’ve been developing it for two years. We’re now ready to launch R3 Score.”

As it’s spelled put on the Mission: Launch website, here’s how it works: R3 Score is an online platform enables individuals with records to respond to a few questions and, in turn, receive an equitable numerical score and use it during the application process for occupational licensing, bank financing, commercial contracting or other such opportunities.

By creating a risk analysis tool that “uses an algorithm for background screening that is fair,” it promises to improve the lives of those with criminal records by increasing access to jobs, entrepreneurship and financial products.

“Our focus is on, ‘You’ve been to prison, now what?’” Hodge said. “We get people from other organizations that have our same mindset and … for those of us who’ve gone to prison, we can’t undo that, it’s a matter of what we will do with the rest of our lives.”

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Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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