Sean Hosman, founder of the nonprofit Persevere, says he had a “pretty great” early life. By 2012, he was married with three children and had founded Vant4ge, a human services and predictive analytics technology company with a focus on transforming correctional care and case management.
Hosman realized he had to change when he found himself in prison on his youngest son’s birthday. “I wanted to be out and with my family,” Hosman tells Entrepreneur. “I don’t know why one particular birthday and one particular event sort of struck me more profoundly, but it did.”
Hosman initiated the long process of getting clean and sober and focused on building up his dignity and self-respect along the way. Part of that meant lending other people in recovery a hand: helping them detox, find a place to live, get their job back or start their own company.
“As I was surrounding myself with more and more of these people and trying to help them on a one-on-one basis, I realized that the challenges everybody faced were almost the same set of challenges,” Hosman says. “So I [had] this idea that almost anybody could get back on top if they just had this recipe of help. And if they would accept that help, and it was given really well, anybody could be successful.”
That belief would give rise to Persevere, a Memphis-based organization serving hundreds of justice-involved and at-risk individuals in community and correctional settings in six states across the U.S. Persevere offers a one-year programming course for people in prison so they can work as full-stack developers upon their release.
“If you can code, people don’t care a whole lot else about you.”
To date, Persevere has given more than 400 prisoners the opportunity to learn how to code and then helped many of them secure employment after their release at companies including Amazon, Indeed and Forbes, where some of them earn upwards of $125,000 per year.
“We have a lot of full-time staff that are recruiters — their only focus is preparing our candidates for jobs,” Hosman says, “and then building the relationships with corporate America and technology companies — or now any company because every company has technology needs — for fair chance hiring [of] our candidates.”
Persevere has an approximate ratio of one recruiter for every 20 of its students, Hosman says.
Additionally, Hosman founded tech company Banyan Labs to give Persevere graduates access to mentorship from experienced technology partners and the chance to work on cross-functional development teams.
From the start, Hosman saw the immense value in creating a tech-oriented program for incarcerated people. Not only was he well-versed in the sector himself and confident he could help teach people how to navigate it, but he also sees technology as “the great equalizer.”
“If you can code, people don’t care a whole lot else about you,” Hosman explains. “You can work in your underwear, you can work at home, you can work remotely. You might have a bad background, [but] if you can code, you can get a job.”
Hosman also views coding as an excellent “metaphor for people recoding their life.”
“Coding is nothing but problem-solving,” Hosman says. “If you can learn how to problem-solve, it translates to everything else that’s a problem for you. And learning how to problem-solve is the key to everything. “
“It’s not just a job; it’s not a Band-Aid. It’s truly transforming who they are.”
Hosman is dedicated to giving incarcerated people, including the many fathers like himself, the tools they need to succeed after release — a key factor in lowering the high recidivism rate nationwide: Within three years of their release, two out of three former prisoners will be arrested again, and more than 50% will return to prison, per Harvard Political Review.
According to Hosman, former prisoners who graduate from Persevere have a recidivism rate of just 1.8%. “That is a shockingly low number,” he says. “It’s amazing. It’s not just a job; it’s not a Band-Aid. It’s truly transforming who they are.”
As Hosman eyes the future, he’s excited for Persevere to evolve into “a movement — not just a nonprofit.” In addition to extending the program’s reach into more states across the country, Hosman wants to focus not only on people who are already caught up in the criminal justice system but also on those who are most at-risk of entering it.
“So a lot of communities of color,” Hosman says, “as well as those that are called disconnected youth or opportunity youth — they’re between the ages of 16 and 24. They’re not in school; they’re not employed. And they’re the most at-risk for going into the system. So if we want to fix the system, we have to stop people from going into it, as well as stop people who were in it from coming back.”
[Technology is] the future — it’ll always be the future.
Ultimately, Hosman hopes to see Persevere establish thousands of local community offices, where disadvantaged and marginalized people can learn to code and acquire any other technology-based skills necessary to build a successful career.
“Technology now is advancing like it always has at a rate that none of us can even keep up with,” Hosman says, “especially right now with AI. It’s the future — it’ll always be the future. All of the people that have not had the opportunity should know that and be trained to take advantage of it.”
And as for Hosman’s plans this Father’s Day? The serial entrepreneur intends to spend it with his children.
“I’m very, very, very fortunate,” Hosman says. “My children work with me in my various companies. So that’s a life transformation right there. The love, respect, confidence and adoration that we have is pretty amazing.”
This story originally appeared on Entrepreneur