By DANA TYLER
NEW YORK (CNN) – A local nonprofit offers a paid fellowship in digital media production, with a solid opportunity for a good job upon graduation.
One necessary qualification for all participants: That they have spent time in prison.
CBS2’s Dana Tyler takes us inside Second Chance Studios.
“I was incarcerated for three years. I was just released a little less than a year ago,” Jane Anderson said.
“Growing up, I thought that prison was somewhere we all went one way or another,” said Mario Finesse Wright.
“I ended up doing two years and three months in the state prisons in West Virginia,” said Second Chance Studios alum James Severe.
Anderson and Wright are fellows at Second Chance Studios. Along with a group of 10 others, they are being paid to learn hands-on production skills, as well as what it takes to operate in a competitive job environment.
Severe is a Second Chance alumni, now a mentor and instructor to the current cohort. And because of this “second chance,” he’s employed as an associate producer at MTV.
“There is a little bit of a label that comes with being part of Second Chance Studios, but it’s a good one,” Severe said.
“I created Second Chance Studios because I saw the smartest people while I was incarcerated. You know, most intuitive ones, most ingenuitive individuals in there. And I know that they have more,” said Coss Marte.
Marte had more, too. After doing six years for dealing drugs, he used his incarceration as an inspiration and formed CONBODY fitness studio. CONBUD is his next endeavor, as a legal marijuana dispensary.
The goal in co-founding Second Chance Studios two years ago, like his other businesses, is to train and employ formerly incarcerated individuals.
“We can be known for the worst thing we’ve ever done, but let’s be known for what we’ve done today, what we’re doing today, what we’re doing in our futures,” Marte said.
Employment can be especially challenging for those who’ve have served time, with about 45% still jobless a year after leaving prison. Everyone here knows how much is on the line.
“There is a hunger, right? There is this really deep desire to do something with everything, every piece of knowledge, every opportunity, every experience,” said Second Chance Studios CEO Lajuanda Asemota.
Asemota said beyond the sense of community, there’s the drive to put their best work out, to express themselves with the tools and knowledge that is offered in the six-month course.
“I do want to record my own music and produce,” said fellow Celeste Greatness.
Greatness served time for assault. With this second chance, she said she’s breaking a generational cycle of prison as she learns new skills, for employment and self-expression.
“Ultimately, I would love to be behind the camera,” Anderson said.
“People get to see, oh, someone who has a record is capable of making this, of creating. I think that’s a really powerful way to shift hearts and minds,” Asemota said.
“I’m a three times self-published author. My story helps other people. So I have hope for a future, for a better world, period,” Wright said.
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