In just over a decade and a half, Josh Smith built a small service company into a $30 million enterprise with more than 180 employees. But for a 5-year period before that, he was incarcerated in a federal prison camp in Kentucky for his involvement in marijuana and cocaine trafficking.
Smith grew up in a single-mother household, lived in government housing, was removed from his home at age 11 due to abuse and was convicted of 10 felonies by the time he was 16. He entered prison at age 21 as an 11th-grade dropout with no plans to exit it any differently than how he entered.
Instead, he found redemption through God and was guided by several highly educated white-collar criminals who he was able to learn from. But all the books he read, studying he did and plans he made didn’t alter the reality of the world he was released into, one where ex-convicts are still punished by an onerous set of legal restrictions. Upon his release, the government housing his wife lived in was no longer available to them because of his status as a felon. He had to beg for his first job making $6 per hour.
Since exiting prison, Smith has spent the past 15 years actively involved in criminal justice reform in Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee and countries in Central America. Smith has supported programs that provide hope, training and reentry support for prisoners and their families who earnestly want a new life, including hiring and mentoring many felons. In June of 2019 he was named to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s Criminal Justice Reinvestment Task Force. He and his wife of 23 years, Tracy, are now driven to reshape the reality for offenders, from the time they enter prison through their re-entry.