Six formerly incarcerated students receive paid training in multimedia and life skills

About a year ago, James Severe was attending college and trying to pull himself together after spending more than four years in prison and under house arrest for drug possession and other charges. Then he got an unexpected call: He had been accepted into the first cohort of Second Chance Studios, a New York-based six-month paid media fellowship program for formerly incarcerated people.

After careful consideration and consultation with his professors, Severe decided to enroll in Second Chance and juggle the curriculum and college. It was just too good an opportunity to turn down. “Especially having a record, I knew I had to think outside the box,” he says. Now, Severe is set to wrap up the program and start working for MTV on a short-term contract. He also hopes to graduate from Roc Nation School of Music, Sports & Entertainment in another year.

Second Chance Studios was co-founded in 2020 by Coss Marte, himself a formerly incarcerated individual, who launched CONBODY, a fitness studio, six years ago. Its mission: to hire people who are also involved in justice. Marte designed Second Chance as a way to help formerly incarcerated people develop essential life skills and techniques with which to start a new life and beat the high recidivism rate for those who have served their time but have little time. options once they have been incarcerated. published.

With this in mind, CEO and Co-Founder Lajuanda M. Asemota has crafted a curriculum that includes courses in soft skills such as networking and creating presentations, software expertise and technical know-how, from video production to podcasting. The six fellows in the 35-hour-a-week program, which began last October, also receive salary and benefits. Classes are led by the three-person staff, as well as volunteers, such as a retired human resources executive who helps develop CV skills and prepare for interviews.

The program also helps with everything from housing to mental health care. “A common misconception is that just getting a job solves everything,” says Asemota. “That’s why we also help our scholars develop life skills.” There is also an emphasis on experiential learning: participants worked on projects for external clients during the program.

Fellows completed a final project focused on their particular area of ​​interest. Sévère, for example, created a video about the music students at his school.

Marte and his colleagues funded Second Chance, which is a nonprofit, with a Kickstarter campaign in 2020 that raised $60,000 in three weeks and funding from donors, companies including Verizon and AT&T, and foundations, such as Schusterman Family Philanthropies. The original plan was to run the program for 12 months. But raising sufficient funds proved difficult, so the time frame was reduced to six months.

Of the six fellows, some attended in person, while others, who were not vaccinated, worked remotely. The next cohort will launch next year, with applications opening in about a month, according to Marte.

Evelyn C. Tobin