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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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Formerly incarcerated man creates directory for formerly incarcerated entrepreneurs

Torrance+poses+for+a+portrait.+PHOTO%3A+CHRIS+KLINE+23%2FTHE+HAWK
Torrance poses for a portrait. PHOTO: CHRIS KLINE ’23/THE HAWK

Philadelphian Stacey Torrance, 48, was sentenced to life in prison without parole at age 14.

To some, that sentence would dissolve any hopes for future endeavors. But, that was not the case for Torrance. 

“When I was incarcerated, one of the things that I did was weave my mind into life as a mental escape from my physical circumstances,” Torrance said. “So, I would dream about things I wanted to do for my release.”

While incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Chester, Torrance listened to conversations between inmates who started their own businesses after being released. He began participating in business classes provided behind bars. In those classes, he dreamed up the idea for the Free Mind Entrepreneurship Network, an online directory for formerly incarcerated entrepreneurs and employers looking to hire. 

This directory not only provides support for the beginnings of newly released individuals’ businesses, but it gives parolees a place to find job opportunities as well.

“One of the reasons why a lot of men start their businesses was because they couldn’t find employment,” Torrance said. “So for them to get a meaningful or significant job, paying their bills, thinking of themselves and their families, they decided to become entrepreneurs and be successful at it.”

In 2017, following changes to laws regarding life sentences without parole for juveniles, Torrance was released from prison after serving 29 years. He first collaborated with St Joe’s own Beautiful Social Research Collaborative on a project called Life After Life, which helped formerly incarcerated juveniles sentenced to life in prison reacclimate to society, before the pandemic halted work on the project. 

In the fall of 2021, Torrance reached back out to the Collaborative to assist him with his new business idea, Free Mind. 

The Collaborative, directed by Aimée Knight Ph.D., associate professor of communication and media studies, is a collaborative class where students and fellows in the communication and media studies department work on semester-long multimedia projects with Philadelphia-based nonprofits.

Knight said the Free Mind project is a partnership based on a sustainable, long-term commitment and a strong relationship. 

“Life experience is their strength, and a source of passion,” Knight wrote in response to questions from The Hawk. “In the next year, I see Free Mind harnessing that strength and passion for good in order to mentor others who were navigating reentry and to support advocacy initiatives.” 

Maggie Tyndall ’22 has been leading The Collaborative’s Free Mind project group for two semesters now in her capacity as a Foley Fellow for Media and Civic Engagement. Tyndall and her group have created and branded social media pages and a website for Torrance to grow his business.

“We worked on branding, starting social media accounts, just getting the name out there,” Tyndall said. “It was a big task, starting a whole new organization. It took that whole semester. This spring, we’ve been working on creating more video content and really just building the organization.”

There are currently 10 entrepreneurs in the network, Tyndall said. 

Anna Dorneman ’23, a member of the group working with Torrance this semester, said the goal is to increase engagement. 

“I think that he feels stronger about this network, and now it has a better foundation,” Dorneman said

While their work with Torrance gave St Joe’s students the opportunity to gain experience in the communication field, the lessons Torrance taught resonated with them, Tyndall said.

“He said that sometimes the worst thing that ever happened to you can be the best thing that has ever happened to you,” Tyndall said.

Torrance said he sees that a turnaround happens for formerly incarcerated individuals when they go from being the employee desperately looking for a job to becoming the employers.  

“These people were children sitting to die in prison, some of whom were wrongfully convicted and served decades behind a wall in prison,” Torrance said. “Now they came out and are doing excellent work in society.”

The Free Mind Entrepreneurship Network will continue working with Beautiful Social for a third semester in the fall 2022 semester to finalize a video currently in production.

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