“I’m a former inmate who became a tech CEO,” says Marcus Bullock, who prefers the term “Returning Citizens,” for the formerly incarcerated for whom his app Flikshop makes it possible to receive picture postcards from friends and family directly. After being sentenced to 8 years in an adult, maximum-security prison at the very un-adult age of 15 for six years, his mother’s insistence on both writing letters and sending pictures saved his life and inspired Flikshop. He also launched the Flikshop School of Business, an initiative that provides entrepreneurial and life skills essential for a return to a society that demands a former inmate find employment but refuses to grant it for being a former inmate.
Prioritizing reentry well before release is the key to Bullock’s masterplan to realign America’s fractured criminal justice system. “I want to change the entire world's perception of formerly incarcerated people,” he says, “and be instrumental in creating an infrastructure specifically outfitted to help them successfully transition back into society.”
What are the Day One needs of a Returning Citizen?
The expectation is for these men and women that have been behind bars for weeks, months, years, and some even decades to come home and be successful in a brand-new world unrecognizable to them. Returning Citizens need three things: identification, employment, and housing immediately. Giving someone a manual is not going to do that on an on a broader scale.
At what point should the reentry process begin?
The reentry process should start well before someone comes home from prison. I'm challenging myself with Flikshop to be thoughtful around how we even build the technology to be able to make sure that we contribute to the solution for recidivism. 90% of our users are family and friends sending photo postcards to incarcerated loved ones. But we also establish strategic partnerships with businesses and organizations, such as Slack and Koch Industries, both of which espouse fair chance hiring and offer employment to Returning Citizens regardless of their criminal record. It’s not just the problem of the parole board or the probation committee. It’s the entire community. This a problem for humanity. Everyone needs to play a part in solving it.
What is the Flikshop mission?
Our goal is to create a natural pathway for communication for the incarcerated back to the real world before they come home. Flikshop will partner with different organizations and agencies to ensure that every person coming home from prison what to do for success.
What are your thoughts on fair chance hiring?
I am so grateful for companies that are being intentional about implementing fair chance hiring practices for their growing teams. So many folks are boxed out of employment opportunities, not because of who they are, but because of the mistake that they made several years ago. When I came home and began applying for jobs, I knew that I would have to be exceptional, be willing to outwork every other applicant, and probably be willing to accept lower wages. I never imagined that the largest barrier would be a preconceived idea that people with a felony are not worthy of working at some of the companies where I applied. That's what they were saying every time they slammed a door in my face...I'm not worthy. Once the paint store gave me an opportunity, I committed to ensuring that I would help change that narrative.
What role does Flikshop have in fair chance hiring?
Flikshop continues to leverage our growth to hire more Returning Citizens, and we're very proud of that. We are also taking it a bit further and becoming intentional about building our platform to help support other organizations that are being deliberate about increasing their social impact footprint. Customers of Flikshop, like Slack, have committed to fair chance hiring practices, and leverages Flikshop's data to source talent and connect real jobs to soon-to-be-released people that will be searching for jobs in the tech sector. Other organizations like Free Minds Book Club sends notifications via Flikshop to young offenders in Federal prisons to let them know about small businesses in Washington, DC that are willing to hire Returning Citizens. Our data metrics allow businesses to build targeted campaigns to help get resources into thousands of cells every day...well before someone returns to their community.
How can other companies support fair chance hiring?
The best way for companies to start supporting fair chance hiring is to bring formerly incarcerated people to their offices to give them tours. Introduce them to the team and the ways that they do their jobs. That's a start. The HR managers that will help facilitate the office tour will learn how valuable and eager these men and women are to perform for their companies. There are also fair chance hiring resources available to employers considering hiring Returning Citizens. The Society for Human Resource Management and Koch Industries launched the Getting Talent Back to Work Initiative which has a toolkit to help familiarize HR managers and companies with the ins and outs of hiring qualified candidates. Imagine the success of a company's diversity strategy and the business growth that they'll experience from bringing in top talent that will be the most loyal and hardworking staff they've ever hired. I'm truly excited about the future of work; one that includes people who look like me and may have lived in some of the same cells that I lived in.
By Isoul H. Harris