On a lower level of the Wynne Unit, a state prison in Huntsville, about 20 men in white jumpsuits and matching white sneakers sit around the perimeter of a room. Their attention is focused on Paul Allen, who stands in front of them. He’s a familiar face in the unit of about 3,000 male prisoners: He’s been teaching there for years. Today, he’s leading the men through their capstone business course, for many the final step on the path to getting their associate of applied science degrees in business.
“We’ve got some geeks in here,” said Sherman Griffin with a laugh from his place in the back row. “And they’re smart. And it’s OK to be smart.” These men are learning entrepreneurship and creating their own business plans. One hopes to open a bar and grill, another a technology company.
Elkanah Hendrix, 40, sits in the front row. He has decades of martial arts training and wants to start his own virtual training school. “I have three children, and they won’t allow me to see this as incarceration,” Hendrix said. “They say, ‘Daddy, you’re away at college.’”
Many of them probably wouldn’t be in college if they hadn’t gone to prison. Only about 40 percent graduated from high school. …