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The man supporting veterans and former prisoners

Words by Tess Becker

The world is incredibly difficult in the best of times but people returning to civilian life from prison or the military can find even more obstacles in their way. Formerly incarcerated people struggle to find work and veterans have little support in place to deal with experiences of war.

According to one report from the US Department of Justice, from more than 50,000 people released from federal prisons in 2010, a staggering 33% found no employment at all over four years post-release. At any given time, no more than 40% of that same group was employed. People who did find jobs struggled, too. Formerly incarcerated people in the sample had an average of 3.4 jobs throughout the four-year study period, suggesting that they were landing jobs that didn’t offer security or upward mobility.

Meanwhile, veterans struggle to find work, consistent housing, and mental health services that address their specific needs. Veterans Affairs (VA) offers some level of support. But the organisation isn't able to address the disproportionate risk of mental illness and even suicide they face. 

Ryan Crownholm is trying to help both groups. 

A serial founder, entrepreneur, mentor, investor and US veteran himself, Ryan uses his experience of over 20 years in business to teach career skills to the groups that are struggling. 

He credits his own experience of leaving the military for the work he does today. 

“It was a rough landing,” Ryan tells Smiley News. “My parents' house burned down two weeks later and I was living in my car just trying to figure all this stuff out.”

“Entrepreneurship pulled me out of that space and along the way, I've always tried to help other people in the same situation.”

He has a specific focus on veterans like himself as well as other groups such as formerly incarcerated people who face barriers to work. 

“I think that's one of the big things that I'm a believer in: second chances, and particularly for the formerly incarcerated group,” Ryan says. “So I've been doing a lot of work using entrepreneurship as a means of finding freedom and autonomy.”

One of the ways he does this work is through the organization Defy Ventures which serves the prison population. 

“We'll go into the prisons and let them know that there are people on the outside that actually care, that not everybody is against them and that they have an advocate,” he says. 

Again, for Ryan, all his work is about second chances and helping people find the support they need to get on their feet.

“I've had my share of second chances and I think that I could have saved myself probably 10 years had I had a mentor,” he says.

And after many hardships, including hospital visits and even facing cancer, he didn’t want his experiences to go to waste. 

“If I'm gone tomorrow, I haven't wasted a lot of hardships and knowledge that I accrued throughout the years. I feel like I'm uniquely qualified to serve these people, just because I gel with them very well.”

Charity check-in

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

Disabled American Veterans. This charity offers tailored support to disabled veterans in the US. Find out more and support them here.

Bounce Back. An organization supporting former prison inmates on their journey back to civilian life. Support them here.  

Wounded Warrior Project. They are an organization reintegrating US veterans into civilian life. Find out more

This article aligns with the UN SDG No Poverty.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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