Creating a Cooperative Academy for the Incarcerated Population in Massachusetts

TESA Collective, in partnership with The Cooperative Fund of New England, The Boston Center for Community Ownership and The National Community Reinvestment Coalition, received a grant to develop a cooperative academy in the Franklin County House of Corrections in Western Massachusetts, as well as programs designed specifically for formerly incarcerated individuals. One partner, The Boston Center for Community Ownership, will be working on cooperative academies for a variety of businesses in Boston, while TESA will be focused specifically on the incarcerated population in Western Massachusetts.

THE CHALLENGE

For those getting out of jail, there are many costs accrued, both invisible and visible. There are court and parole fees, child support for parents, and the general cost of unemployment. Asking someone to step into a start up business with no guaranteed income is challenging and unfair, and also doesn’t serve the needs of the potential membership.

Offering a sustainable job post incarceration is another challenge, and one we are hoping to confront over the course of this project. We aim to both develop the idea of cooperatives with folks who are currently and formerly incarcerated, while also working to garner contracts and partnerships that generate enough start-up capital to provide a secure working opportunity.

THE COLLABORATION

Since 2014, TESA Collective has been teaching a co-op class through GCC in the jail, and since 2015 has been working on developing a composting co-op for inmates who are getting out. Working on these two projects, we realized that we needed a more focused platform to engage potential cooperative members with the design and creation of the composting co-op. As a result, we worked to develop a co-op academy specifically focused on the composting cooperative that can act as a point of entry for currently incarcerated individuals who want to engage more with the project and potentially become worker-owners.

An important goal of the Co-op Academy to enact social and economic justice among participants, and so it’s been our goal to set up paid internships for this project, so that students are earning money and also getting college credit while they are still incarcerated.

Under the grant TESA will also support the development of the compost cooperative. TESA will work with members throughout the startup process to provide technical assistance, conduct a feasibility study and create a solid business plan. We will also support interviewing, selecting and training initial worker owners as well as marketing and logo/web design.

A NOTE FROM TESA

The work with the jail and compost cooperative is fantastic because it embodies the power of co-ops and cooperation in an intersectional way. Intersectionality, especially when it breaks through stereotypes and inequality is so powerful, and it’s important to find real solutions. In this case we use the worker cooperative model to serve a real need; finding meaningful ownership (and not just employment) to a group of people who have to struggle to find any kind of employment at all, let alone the kind that has foundations of self determination, and room to grow. We look forward to supporting the project as it continues to evolve.

Image via Flickr user solylunafamilia.

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