At 15 years old, Jason Wang was arrested in Texas for aggravated robbery, a 1st-degree felony. Wang was sentenced to 12 years in prison, and a felony conviction in the U.S. is a life sentence in its own right. Convicted felons lose the right to vote, and many professions bar felons from finding work. Wang was sent to a juvenile detention center and was later released on parole after three and a half years, but he’s seen firsthand the effect of a criminal record.
“Parole required me to get a job. Every time I applied for a job I was denied employment due to my felony. The jobs that would take me paid less than $10/hour,” Wang wrote. In his final months in prison and his first few back into the world, Wang sought to pave a better road for himself and other ex-felons.
While in juvie, Wang began taking classes and teaching others in his facility. Upon his release, he got his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Texas at Dallas and has dedicated his career to helping formerly incarcerated men and women. In 2018 Wang launched FreeWorld, a non-profit designed to help ex-felons find high-wage work and “live fulfilling lives, prison-free.”
“My life’s mission is to end mass incarceration. I plan on doing that by equipping 26 million ex-felons across the nation with the tools, education, and the jobs they need in order to live positive, productive lives,” Wang wrote on the company’s About page.
Ex-felons struggling to re-enter the world can apply to FreeWorld and gain access to the company’s resources and network. Applicants are often approved quickly if the program fits their needs. Accepted FreeWorld students will be guided and helped in finding housing, work, transportation, and education. FreeWorld “bear hugs” students, offering them total protection and backing until they’re on their feet. Namely, the start-up can connect ex-felons with other non-profits for housing, partners with Lyft for free rides for students, and will pay for you to get any documents you might need.
For work, FreeWorld has online training and partnerships with trucking schools to guarantee students a job in trucking after graduation. The jobs pay well, and FreeWorld helps students move up and earn more for three years after finishing the program. Moreover, FreeWorld pays a $1,500 weekly living stipend to its students.
The program is a fantastic opportunity for ex-felons to pick up skills, reenter the workforce, and transition back into life post-incarceration. There is, however, one catch to all these free resources: the Pay It Forward program.
Pay It Forward
FreeWorld is entirely privately funded, and contributions come partially from graduates who earn steady incomes. Three months after graduation, FreeWorld students earning more than $3,000 monthly (after taxes) will donate 10 percent of their income back into the program to fund future students’ education.
“IF you are doing well and earning a really great income, I believe it’s our duty to help our brothers and sisters who are still struggling to get on their feet. By working together, we can start to rebuild our communities, our families, and our futures,” Wang wrote.
The Bottom Line
Often convicted felons have a hard time getting a second chance in the U.S. Readjusting to life after prison presents major challenges, and recidivism and suicide rates stay high as released prisoners face a difficult world. Programs like FreeWorld make a major difference by helping ex-convicts rehabilitate and reform their lives!