At StartingUp Now we always say "anyone can be an entrepreneur." Troy Rienstra, a missionary for Christ and a prisoner serving a life sentence in a Michigan correctional facility, has decided to accept that challenge and invite us to support his mission of revolutionizing the prison culture through the values, skills, and application of entrepreneurship.
When Troy gave his life to Christ, he realized that whether or not he was ever granted parole, he needed to begin his life for Christ where he was at. He began to think of how he could serve those around him within the prison community. Troy knew that the environment of prison is not one that encourages purposeful living. Most of the men around him would be serving life sentences like himself, and the ones who would receive a second chance would face little hope of acceptance from employers or social circles. Troy knew that the best way he could serve his fellow inmates was to change the mindset of sitting out the rest of their lives and show them by example that a life of value could be possible. In order to do this, Troy and a fellow inmate Mack formed the Life Change Group. Now the group consists of twelve men committed to living a life of service while serving their sentences.
One of the focuses of the Life Change Group is to help each other gain skills in entrepreneurship as a tool of serving others. Each member of the group devotes their time to learning what they can from written materials on the subject and developing goals to pursue. Much of their support in this endeavor comes from Church of the Servant, Christian Reformed Church, which Troy's parents, Rich and Carol Reinstra attend. The church views Troy as an "inmate missionary", rejoicing over his change of heart and purposeful vision. Troy's ideas have inspired them to form a their own group, Christians for Prisoners / Prisoners for Christ, which works to support the discipleship of Christians in prisons as well as to advocate for restorative justice. They have provided the Life Change Group with various reading materials to help them get started, as well as arranged for a series of guest speakers to hold seminars on site.
Founder of StartingUp Now, Brian Jenkins, was honored to be one of these speakers in November, 2012, and was able to meet and speak with the group about StartingUp Now. The Life Change Group is now able to use the StartingUp Guide to plan their business ventures. As Brian learned while visiting the men, their first venture has already begun. Group member Mark introduced an unexpected skill by teaching the men how to crochet beautiful baby caps and booties. The caps are sold by a group of the Christians for Prisoners who travel across country on bicycle to raise awareness of extreme poverty, including the struggles of poverty faced by returning citizens after their sentences are completed. The handmade caps help to support the mission of Sea to Sea, as the bicyclists call themselves, as well as testify to others of the hearts of the men behind bars who are trying to rebuild their lives and relationships with the outside world.
Troy Rienstra, the Life Change Group, and the growing number of teams supporting them hold the belief that the cycle of poverty and crime need not be a continuous one. We hope that StartingUp Now may be another resource to the Life Change Group in pursuing their vision of a life of redemption and restoration for any prisoner who would choose change over defeat. We will continue to work with the Life Change Group and pursue the possibility of creating an entrepreneuship training program designed for use within prisons.