BEST provides a community of support in 4 phases.
Phases 1, 2, and 3 are delivered as a 24 week (6-months) self-contained class of 20 persons at the Debra K Johnson Rehabilitation Center. Other Phase 3 programming is available as open sessions to the general populace at the prison and features weekly topics in business, wellness, mental health, and community-building. In Phase 4, BEST community support is available for returned citizens via virtual and in-person events year round.
Phase One - Understanding Self and Others. BEST seeks to empower individuals with self-knowledge, strengths-based assessments, and weekly programming from expert facilitators in Non-violent Communication (NVC), Houses of Healing (HOH), and Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). Ten (10) character development values form a framework that ties together
* guest speakers in mental health/substance and alcohol recovery;
* the Movies that Matter weekly series that is unique to BEST’s peer support community;
* personal and career goal-setting for Re-entry
Phase Two - Personal Entrepreneurship. Guest speakers and BEST instructors deliver career-focused education in support of student goals. This is a client-based model of teaching small business, financial literacy, and entrepreneurial skills. A range of communication opportunities span Toastmasters International Gavel Club to simulated virtual communication skills in social media, blogging, and virtual marketing.
Phase Three - Preparing for Re-entry. Guest speakers from career, housing, and recovery organizations partner with BEST instructors for peer and mentor support. After graduation, BEST students have the opportunity to participate in weekly topic series that is most relevant to their needs for Re-entry. These sessions run concurrently with the 6-month classroom program and is open to any justice involved individual at the prison location.
Phase Four - The BEST Community. Upon release, each returning citizen can tap into the network of BEST partners as they return to the community ready to be a contributing member of society as an employee or business owner. BEST’s Facebook and Instagram contains the most-up-to-date news and “resource swapping” within the BEST virtual community. We are blessed that members of the BEST volunteer pool partner with transitional/halfway houses to deliver client-centered programming. Please reach out to [email protected] to link arms with BEST to ensure a community of ongoing support!
The pilot class of the BEST program, Cohort 1, started on October 21, 2014 with 22 men. All classes were held at the Charles Bass Correctional Complex, just West of downtown Nashville, Monday through Friday, six hours per day. Eighteen men graduated on April 24, 2015, each with his own business plan. Eighty-three volunteers donated 1,929 hours during the six-month program. Everyone completed their TIP TOP Gavel Club requirements.
Cohort 2 started on November 9, 2015 with 19 women from three Tennessee prisons who meet at the Tennessee Prison for Women (TPFW) in Nashville. We used the electronic tablets provided by partner, Innertainment Delivery Systems to deliver curriculum, including the Nashville Entrepreneur Center PreFlight materials. Eighty-nine volunteers shared their expertise and passion to change lives. Seventeen women completed the program on April 29, 2016. The women completed the WE HOPE Gavel Club requirements (Women of Excellence Helping Others Personally Excel).
Cohort 3 began October 17, 2016 at the Tennessee Prison for Women with 20 women. On April 28, 2017 there were 17 graduates who each completed their own business plan. This cohort's plans ranged from "All Things Honey" to "DiNardo Scrubs custom cleaning service". This class completed the EMPOWERED Gavel Club course of study.
Cohort 4 began October 16, 2017 at the Tennessee Prison for Women with 18 women. On April 27, 2018 11 women graduated and 2 women received Certificates of Participation. Everyone completed the Toastmasters' Competent Communication course. This cohort completed the FEARLESS Gavel Club course of study.
Cohort 5 began October 15, 2018 at TPFW with 20 women, arriving from all 3 women's facilities in the state. The class named themselves "The Givsters" after introducing themselves. Many of the women revealed a desire to do something positive with their life experiences, to give back to others and the community. This resulted in the observation that as "sisters" who want to give back, they were "Givsters". This is also incorporated into their Gavel Club name: Dauntless Givsters. All 17 graduates spoke at Graduation on April 26, 2019 in the TPFW gym.
Cohort 6 began October 21, 2019 at TPFW with 20 women. The Gavel Club name they chose BOLD (Believing in Ourselves, Living our Dreams) which described them perfectly. This group faced the extraordinary challenge brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic which abruptly ended classes 6 weeks earlier than scheduled. However, they were able to complete their ten speeches for Toastmasters and get back into the computer lab to finish typing and printing their business plans. Unfortunately, we were not able to have the typical BEST Graduation due to the restrictions, but were granted permission to send in a special graduation meal along with some items to stimulate continuing to write, journal and more.
NOTE: Tens of thousands of individuals the world over started working on their Toastmasters Competent Communication certificates. However only 17% actually complete the 10 speeches. Over the past six years, all 99 graduates of BEST have accomplished this challenge!
Our state has a prison problem. Recidivism is defined as a tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior; especially relapse into criminal behavior. We need to rethink prison as punishment and begin to utilize it as a place to end the destructive cycle of crime and addiction. Post-secondary education is a proven and powerful part of reducing recidivism. BEST seeks to emulate the success of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program in Texas whose graduates have a 7% recidivism rate, saving taxpayers millions of dollars.
INVEST YOUR TIME
Do you have a background or skill set to share that connects with the BEST values, or an entrepreneurial background? Each participant will need help creating business plans and learning how to pitch their ideas to many people. We are also looking for people to share their business stories allowing your experiences to become our BEST teacher.
BEST needs volunteer instructors, mentors, and real-life entrepreneurs to help deliver instruction, guide, and inspire the women as they each create their own business. Join us!
For Peter Marcum's (CEO of DevDigital) experiences as a BEST volunteer, check this out by clicking here.
Are you a Toastmaster? Would you like to share your Toastmaster skills with our class as they complete the Competent Communication manual? We would love to have you share your evaluation skills with the class, as well as any speaking tips you might find helpful.
We generally have two Toastmasters meetings each week. Typically they will be Tuesdays and Thursdays, but it does shift around from time to time. Check out the Sign Up Genius for BEST Toastmasters Meetings list of opportunities to join our class and participate in Toastmasters at TPFW.
Content coming soon.
Click Donation to use PayPal services.
Checks can be mailed to:
PO Box 90834
Nashville, TN 37209
41 Peabody St.
Nashville, TN 37210