Prison bound or something like that. When I realized that Casa was not going to be able to pay me for a few months in 2008, if at all, I let Stephanie know I would be looking for another job. I had been there for almost 12 years, and it was very hard to leave. I loved working for Casa.
In another universe, I’m still at Casa, I’m sure and probably running the place. We are still doing sexual violence prevention education and might even be the leaders in the United States for this kind of work. Who knows, right? Could be.
But alas, my path in this universe led me to prison.
After over a decade of working in schools, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Charter school jobs were not as numerous then and I didn’t have the type of teaching credentials needed to get hired at a district, so I started looking at the for-profit world. I knew I had public speaking skills, so I started looking for training jobs.
I interviewed at a few places, one of which was Televerde. I met with the head of HR, who was a woman named Shannon. Ironically, she bore a slight resemblance to my ex-wife. They gave me an assessment called Predictive Index as I was going through the onboarding process and when I met with her, she walked me through a bit of what it told them. Predictive Index, or PI, as it is often called is a really interesting tool. If you’ve never taken it, I hope you get a chance someday.
Shannon kind of sold me on the job, which was nice. It was more money than I had been making at Casa and she said something to me that pushed the right button. She said, “Televerde is about the closest thing to a non-profit in the for-profit world.” I was a good fit for their team, apparently, and they scheduled me to go out to the prison to be interviewed by some of the training team.
I have to admit I was very nervous about going to prison but also intrigued. I am a big fan of the HBO series, OZ, which is set in a men’s facility, and I was also fond of the show, Prison Break, so my curiosity was piqued. Admittedly, I was nervous, too, about how the female inmates would react to me. I should not have been nervous about that at all, in hindsight, as the Televerde call centers were pretty much like any other call center I had been in at that point.
Their business was working as the calling team for companies like SAP, Microsoft, Dell, and many other technology purveyors doing lead generation, appointment setting, and gathering data. Incarcerated women were about 95% of the calling team, although there were also women working in the main office in Tempe, as well. All of those women, during the time I worked for Televerde, had once been incarcerated.
Now, as many of you know, I am not the biggest fan of technology. It’s not that I don’t like it or am not a little bit interested in it, but I appreciate it working, not how it works or why someone should by it. I also am not the best guy when it comes to convincing someone to buy something they might not need or understand. I’m a great salesman when it comes to someone needing a product or knowing what they want already. Customer service is my jam but convincing someone to do something they were not considering before I called, not a great fit for me.
So not only was I nervous about going to prison, I was also nervous that my ignorance about what they did in the call centers would allow them to see right through me. It’s a long drive to Perryville, which is located in Goodyear, Arizona, (for you non-Phoenix folks, that’s on the western edge of town and you pass it on your way to Los Angeles on Interstate 10) so I had time to think and stress.
While escaping from prison is hard, it is no easy feat to get into it, either. I had to go to the main gate and get searched and then put my belongings in a locker. Then I was escorted by a Televerde employee, which was one of the call center directors, to the call center itself which was across the street and on the outside of a minimum-security yard called Citrus.
The director gave me a little pre-interview as my job would work closely with them and then I met with members of the training team in the kitchen at the call center. What I remember most about the whole process and time at the call center was the feeling of being stared at intensely. I don’t know if it is anything like what women go through in public on a regular basis, but it was uncomfortable.
After we were finished with the interview, the trainers I had been talking with walked me around the call center a bit. I later learned that they wanted to see my comfort level with being around so many inmates. I guess I pulled it off because I was invited back for a third and final interview with the head of the training & development team the next week.
This interview was back at Televerde corporate, and I met with Vanya, who was a really impressive person. She was into running and biking and had an amazing presence. She reminded me very much of the type of person who would have been working in sexual violence prevention. I thought, right off the bat, this I someone I can learn from, so I was hopeful I would get the job.
Vanya helped me understand more fully what Shannon had told me about Televerde being the closest thing to a non-profit in the for-profit world. The owner of the company, a man named Jim, believed strongly in helping incarcerated people in the process of rehabilitation. The true mission of Televerde, beyond making money to be able to sustain the business, was (at least in Vanya’s eyes) to reduce recidivism and keep people out of prison.
See you tomorrow.
The main entrance at Perryville. Looks inviting, doesn't it?