Donna Goes to Prison

During the past two weeks I’ve spent 8 hours in Federal prison. No, I haven’t lost my mind and committed a crime.  I was there with a colleague to present a program on entrepreneurship to inmates at USP Canaan Federal Camp and Penitentiary.  I’ve been presenting these programs for nearly 20 years, but this was the first time for me on the “inside.”

I have to say I was a bit unnerved at the prospect of being on the inside. With both groups, I was the lone female and, while I like to think it’s nice being the center of attention, I couldn’t help but feel like the proverbial fish out of water.  I have a tendency to say stupid things when I get nervous. I was expecting to blurt out something about the attendees being a “captive” audience.  Thankfully I contained myself, but I did say “if you have time, read through this material”, several shouted out, “we have nothing BUT time.”

This group of trainees was different than any I’ve trained before. It was interesting to note the different questions the inmates asked. I was also impressed by the level of respect and appreciation shown to us.  Here is a sample from the evaluation forms:

The seminar was very informative. Both Speakers were very well spoken and informative.

I enjoyed the class and appreciate your time to share it with me.

This program put things in perspective.

Very good insight on being realistic when developing business plans.

I appreciate the advice and the chance to ask questions.

You’re probably wondering how we ended up training in a federal prison. Earlier this year the Institution Reentry Affairs Coordinator at USP Canaan contacted us to discuss this very possibility. After much planning and preparation we decided we would present a 4-hour training program over two days for both prison populations (camp and penitentiary). This isn’t as random as it sounds. Actually Attorney General Eric Holder is working to lessen the amount of recidivism.  This type of training helps. Here’s a link to a press release from the Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs, May 10, 2012.

For more information about the federal Reentry Council, visit .

Our program was well received, and planning is already in motion to make this a regular program at USP Cannan. I know it’s a huge cliché, but if entrepreneurship training can make a difference to one inmate…

Here’s to second chances.

Donna Simpson, Consultant Manager
University of Scranton SBDC

Leave a Reply