KNOXVILLE – Entrepreneur and philanthropist Josh Smith announces the launch of 4th Purpose Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to helping make prison a place of transformation rather than a place limited to punishment. Smith recently sold the region’s largest residential waterproofing and foundation service company, Master Service Companies, and is committing nearly 50% of its sale to this foundation. In total, Smith will invest $8 Million in his commitment to prison reform, to fund research and transformative programs.
According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, the United States comprises 5% of the world’s total population, but 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. 6.6 million people in the U.S. are currently in the criminal justice system, an increase of 500% over the last 40 years. A huge percentage of those who have been in the system are returning to it less than 3 years after their release.
“The US Bureau of Justice has found that, of those inmates released from state prisons, 83% are rearrested within nine years, which means our current system is broken,” stated Josh Smith, CEO of 4th Purpose Foundation. “The biggest problem with America’s prison system is that it does not prepare people to leave. Transforming America’s prisoners requires transforming the way America thinks about prison and its overarching purpose.”
The foundation believes that the fourth purpose of prison—after retribution, incapacitation and deterrence—should be transformation. Many criminal justice reform efforts refer to the 4th purpose as rehabilitation, which means returning something to its original state. 4th Purpose doesn’t want prisoners reverting to their original, crime-committing state; the organization wants to prepare men and women in whatever ways they weren’t prepared before, while providing them with hope.
Josh Smith adds, “there’s nothing more dangerous than a person without hope.”
“Our goal at 4th Purpose is to ensure that prisoners leave with the training they need to not only be able to positively contribute to society, but to begin the work of mending their families,” added wife and co-founder, Tracy Smith. “We can do that by giving them something to look forward to, and by providing them with job and life skills during their incarceration. A strong connection to self, family and purpose is key to their success upon release. We seek to nurture this, while preparing prisoners for all aspects of reentry.”
In just under a decade and a half, Josh Smith built his small service company into an almost $30 million enterprise with more than 150 employees, spanning across three states. It’s hard to believe now, but for a 5-year period shortly before that, he himself 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 sent away from his home at age 11 due to abuse and was convicted of seven 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. Despite this, Smith found redemption through faith and by forming personal relationships with several highly educated mentors that he happened to be incarcerated with.
All the books Smith read, studying he did, and plans he made didn’t alter the reality of the world he was released back into though; 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 last 15 years actively involved with speaking and mentoring inside prisons in Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee and several 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, Smith was named to Gov. Bill Lee’s Tennessee Criminal Justice Investment Task Force, which according to Lee is “committed to addressing all aspects of the criminal justice system to improve public safety and reentry” in the state of Tennessee.
Josh and Tracy Smith are dedicated to reshaping the reality for offenders, from the time they enter prison through their reentry.
Read the full story here: https://www.knoxvilledailysun.com/news/2019/november/former-inmate-turns-ceo.html