My mom’s incarceration put me on a trajectory for the last nine years that I honestly would never have imagined.

November 8, 2019

I had just graduated from college when my mother began her 87-month sentence at the Alderson Federal Prison Camp, and she had spent the previous five years fighting the charges against her.   Most of the concern about children of incarcerated parents focuses on young children, but my mom and I had a very close relationship, and even though I was 21 when she went away, I’m still unpacking how her absence affected me at the age of 34.  People don’t go to prison; whole families do.  Her incarceration created a big void at a time when I was trying to figure out who I was, where I would find my first job, and who I was going to be in the world.  It was also during the economic recession and jobs were scarce. So it was a difficult time.

I visited my mother constantly, and with her encouragement, I enrolled in the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.  One of my professors suggested I look at the field of social entrepreneurship as a career pathway.  He said, “Your first degree is in sociology, you understand business, and you’re committed to social justice. Why don’t you enter the school’s Business Plan Competition?  Pick a topic you’re deeply committed to.”   My choice of topic was almost a given:  Reentry. When I told my mother about the competition she walked through the prison camp and asked the women what they thought they would need to get back on their feet after their release.  Based on her survey, I wrote up a plan and placed third in the competition.  That plan became the basis for Mission: Launch, the organization my mother and I co-founded in 2012.  Today I serve as the organization’s President and Executive Director.  My mom’s incarceration put me on a trajectory for the last nine years that I honestly would never have imagined.

Our goal at Mission: Launch is to eliminate the lasting harm caused by our criminal justice system by leveraging technology and innovation as well as restoring self-sufficiency through inclusive entrepreneurship.  Our approach is holistic, combining financial literacy, inclusive entrepreneurship and community engagement. Some of the folks we’ve worked with have started LLCs, some have started worker-owned cooperatives, and some have started family businesses.  One of my current priorities is building relationships with Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) who are required to provide financial assistance and technical assistance to low-income communities.   We’re working with banks from Northern Virginia to Baltimore who have joined us to demonstrate the viability of entrepreneurs with records.  For me and my mom, entrepreneurship and working together was a path to the restoration of our family, and the more we kept digging in this work, the more we recognized that for a lot of families working together to create a business, even a very small one, can not only build togetherness but can generate a sustainable income to get people out of the poverty loop caused by having a criminal record.

My mother, Teresa Hodge, was a member of the first Leading with Conviction cohort in 2015, and over the years I have joined her as a trainer at LwC forums.  It’s been so interesting to go through the whole training instead of just popping in and out.  As someone who has been a conflict avoider all my life, I’m learning to trust myself and lean into it as a natural state of being alive and not something to run away from.  That’s a huge change!

Laurin Leonard (Hodge) is an Echoing Green Fellow, a Cordes Fellow, an Ashoka and Aspen Institute Emerging Nonprofit Leader, an Ashoka and American Express North American Emerging Social Innovator, a Points of Light honoree and a proud member of various communities such as StartingBloc and Hopkins’ Social Innovation Lab.

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