INDIANAPOLIS — After spending nine months in a maximum-security prison, Stefanie Mitchell knew when she was released that she wanted to help others.
"It opened my eyes to so many different things, but it also brought me to the path I'm on today," Mitchell said.
Ending up in prison, she says, was the result of getting involved with a group of people that wasn't good for her overall well-being.
"(I) started drinking a lot and doing drugs — doing things that were completely out of character for me. One night I ended up getting arrested," Mitchell said.
After Mitchell was released, she decided to go back to school and get her master's degree in forensic psychology.
"Because I said, 'there has to be a way to help people psychologically and also emotionally and tie all of that together,'" Mitchell said.
The challenge was trying to figure out how to make her vision into a profitable business.
"How do I make myself my own boss so somebody is not telling me 'no because you're a felon you can't do this? 'Well, that's not an option," she said.
Mitchell went through Indy Chamber's ReEntry Entrepreneurship Develop Initiative, known as the REDi program. The focus is on the nuts and bolts of entrepreneurship.
Neil Metzger, REDi Program Manager, said the initiative focuses on "things like how to build a business plan, how to build a budget, how to register in the State of Indiana."
Since its creation five years ago, the REDi Program has helped launch 35 new businesses and has worked with 700 individuals in Indiana Department of Correction facilities, including those who have been released. Metzger says the initiative directly impacts the community.
"Recidivism rates for the state of Indiana right now are about 34%, so that means one out of every three individuals that are released from prison will be back in prison within the next three years," Metzger said. "If we can help stem that tide and try to get people giving back to the community rather than taking from it as a drain for tax resources, it is a great thing, and the number one indicator of recidivism is employment."
With help from the REDi program, Mitchell founded her business, called Freedom From the Inside Out, in the fall of 2021. She provides services for people impacted by incarceration, whether it's struggling with employment, housing, or addiction.
"It is a mission to give others the freedom that I found from inside," Mitchell said.
The next five-week REDi program session begins April 12. The deadline to apply is Monday, April 11. Click here to apply.