Defy Ventures, a nonprofit organization that provides entrepreneurial training to people with criminal backgrounds, held its first sales exposition on Saturday.
Later that day, there was an exercise that Ms. Rohr called “step to the line,” in which Defy students and mentors revealed information about themselves. “Step to the line if you’ve ever been in prison,” she said. Nearly every Defy student walked toward the middle of the room. “Stay on the line if you were in prison for more than five years.”
About a third of the group trickled back toward the wall. “Ten years.” By the time Ms. Rohr counted up to 25, there were only two men left on the line: Edward Quick and Kenneth Wilson, who had done 27 and 28 years, both for murder.
The two met 30 years earlier at a Brooklyn jail and had not seen each other since. They hugged to great applause. Mr. Quick, 55, has been accepted in Defy’s second group of students and hopes to start a company offering transportation services for prisoners’ families.
Mr. Wilson, 58, is in the “Bootcamp,” an intensive one-month program that is part of the extended application process.
“I think people are generally willing to accept others if they take responsibility for their faults,” Ms. Rohr said.
It is a belief she has put into practice. In Texas, she founded a similar organization called the Prison Entrepreneurship Program but resigned in 2009 after admitting to “inappropriate relationships” — she does not go into detail — with graduates of the program. “I don’t skirt it,” she said. “I think we bond more deeply over our failures than our successes.”