Visiting James Hooker, MBA '77, at work is a little more complicated than taking an elevator to a corner office. Visitors have to provide driver's license, social security number and undergo a complete background check. That's because Hooker's business, Phoenix, Arizona-based marketing services company Televerde, is primarily based in a women's prison.
"It usually comes as a surprise when people hear where we do our work but most of our clients have been positive about it and are eager to see our work in person," he said.
How it Works
Televerde currently employs approximately 300 women serving sentences in Arizona's Perryville Prison, located just outside Phoenix. The women, many of whom have never had a steady job, according to Hooker, are trained as marketing sales professionals and primarily field client phone calls.
"It's a win-win arrangement," Hooker said. "We're providing these women the opportunity to learn real business skills, something tangible to carry forward in their lives, and, at the same time, providing our clients high-quality, professional services."
In the 17 years since Hooker founded the company, Televerde has employed some 1,500 women, many of whom either continued to work at Televerde or a related company after their release.
Making a Difference
The impact of Televerde's work with incarcerated women is measurable. Since 2010, the national average rate of recidivism—the number of women who return to prison after release—has been 67 percent. The rate for women who work for Televerde is a mere 5 percent.
"It's incredible to see the transformation these women make from day one to year one to their release," Hooker said. "They leave with changed lives; they're successful, they can care for their families again."
Hooker started Televerde in 1995 as his second career after retiring from the computer leasing industry. After trying to make it as a professional bridge player, he found himself in Arizona on a site visit to the Perryville facility's work program and what would become Televerde.
"I loved the idea of doing well while doing good and that's what we've embraced in our business model," he said. "Going to work every day just to make money never appealed to me and I'm proud of the difference we're making."
Hooker attributes the success of Televerde to the skills and philosophy he developed while at Kogod, and to his entrepreneurship classes in particular.
"I was right out of the military when [I started at Kogod] and really learned to think outside the box and that even the most unlikely idea could become a success."
In addition to the inmates employed by Televerde, the company also works with the nonprofit Arouet Foundation, to operate a life skills program for the entire facility called TOPS: Transforming Our Possibilities. TOPS sponsors weekly workshops on subjects ranging from personal budgeting and finance to family reunification.
Hooker hopes to not only continue Televerde's relationship with the Perryville facility and the women inmates, but to expand into other states and eventually work with male inmates as well.
"I plan to be hanging out in prisons until the day I die," he said.