Link copied to clipboard
Guest blog by Na’im Al-Amin, Founder and CEO of SWAGG INC.
The first time I felt handcuffs on my wrists, I was eight years old.
I was ushered into the criminal justice system silently, without a word from a social worker or counselor. Had anyone asked me why I had attempted to rob someone, I would have told them that I had just moved from Kansas to California after being placed in foster care. Being new, the gang that controlled the block told me I had to pull a lick (commit robbery) to know I was “good.” But no one asked me. Before I knew it, I was booked and my journey in mass incarceration had begun.
Since then, I spent time in juvenile detention, county jail, and finally, in prison. I was released for the last time on March 22, 2018. Today, my mission is to help others never go in and never go back.
During my second stint in prison, I decided enough was enough. I had already pursued education as a means to move past my interactions with the criminal justice system. But, still, after graduating with a college degree, employers wouldn’t hire me due to my previous felony conviction. Then, as I was back in prison again, I knew I had to do something different.
At that time, “entrepreneur” and “owner” were not in my lexicon. But, I started talking to people around me, and I heard the same issues over and over: “I just need a job before I get out,” “I don’t really know how to prepare for an interview or talk about my skill set,” and “I don’t know how to find a job, but I know that without one, I’ll be 30 days from violating parole.”
These conversations, on top of my own experiences, led to a vision to build the programs and support that I wish had been there for me. For all of us. So, while incarcerated, I wrote the business plan for SWAGG INC.
In March 2018, I was released from prison homeless, geographically displaced, and disenfranchised. I wouldn’t wish that time on anyone; each day felt like an eternity. But, before a month was up, I was hired at UPS as a package handler. I was grateful to be generating some revenue and have space to think about my next steps. Then, within 4 months, I was promoted to a role in human resources.
As a representative of UPS and as a black man in human resources, I knew I had an opportunity to bring resources straight where they were needed. I started reaching out to the community through parole officers, probation officers, and schools, and hiring people on the spot. Meanwhile, in every way I could, I worked toward making SWAGG INC. a reality. The first “no” I received on my business plan just spurred me on to keep building my vision, networking to connect with mentors, and learning from them to hone my plan; I didn’t plan to stop until I had a victory.
Today, my dream is coming to fruition at our established 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, SWAGG INC. (Serve, Witness, And Give Guidance. Inspiration Never Ceases). We provide prevention and re-entry services that put a person’s potential first, and our vision is to reduce recidivism by promoting ownership for those impacted by mass incarceration. Why is ownership important? Because to take on our future, we each must reckon with our past. We help people deal with their wrongs and the wrongs that have been done to them. This means owning their story, owning their finances, and owning their future. Our programs and partnerships foster the mindset of ownership under the umbrella of entrepreneurial development, emotional intelligence, employment etiquette, and no-judgment mentoring. And, we have big plans for the future.
As I look back at my journey, I see my Agilities woven throughout. I had been growing those strengths and interests for decades — I just didn’t know back then what they would allow me to do in the workforce and for my community today. From using “Innovating” to create new programs aimed at reducing recidivism, to “Selling and Communicating” my business plan to bring this vision to scale, to “Serving and Caring” as I work one on one with individuals like Antoine, Terrell, Jordan, or John.
Knowing my Agilities gave me clarity of my strengths and helped me set goals. As I move forward into the next period of growth for SWAGG INC., I want to grow my Agility of “Developing Others” so I can better invest in individuals and help them never go in or never go back.
When individuals working with us take the Agile Work Profiler and get to know their Agilities, they too gain clarity. Ideally even before they’re released, they get to see the ways their interests and transferable skills fit into their career and the new future they’re building. Together, through our mentorship and their ingenuity and skills, we get to create new outcomes.
I aim for each person to become their own personal legend — meaning they become their own version of their best self, live their potential, and use their skills and interests to show up for those around them. While many commend me on my journey, I don’t want my journey to be considered extraordinary, because I want each person to have a chance like this to rewrite their story. And that’s how I’m expanding pathways in our community.