Episode 16: Changing the Narrative – Shannon Ross and Adam Procell

Podcast Guests

photo of Leighann Lovely

Leighann Lovely

SITE Staffing, Inc.

photo of Shannon Ross

Shannon Ross

Paradigm Shyft: Reentry Strategies and Consulting

photo of Adam Procell

Adam Procell

Paradigm Shyft: Reentry Strategies and Consulting

Great conversation with Shannon Ross and Adam Procell about the work they are doing with Paradigm Shyft: Reentry Strategies and Consulting firm along with The Community and Partners In Hope.

Leighann Lovely 0:01
You’re listening to HRables: HR In Bite-Sized Pieces, presented by SITE Staffing. As a staffing company that offers temp, temp to hire and direct hire services, we work with all sized companies from small family owned businesses to fortune 500 companies. My goal is to offer insight and knowledge about what we see day in and day out. We hope to educate you cover topics such as what is happening in the labor market, where unemployment rates are at what the new wage expectation is, how to attract and retain employees and much more. I hope you enjoy this week’s episode. Welcome to this week’s episode of HRables. I’m your host, Leighann Lovely. I’m very excited to have this conversation today with two amazing men who have dedicated their lives to doing good work in our community after having a rough start to life. Shannon Ross, the co-owner of Paradigm Shyft: Reentry Strategies and Consulting firm. He is also the executive director of The Community, which he founded with invaluable outside support in 2014, while he was serving a 17 year prison sentence. The Community employs deep inreach and outreach to help bring society and the system impacted communities exactly where they need each other to be. And since his release in September 2020, Shannon is also a grad student from UW Milwaukee, a community fellow with the Wisconsin Decarceration Platform, a member of Unlock Higher Ed, a mentor with Prisons To Professionals, and co-owner of D’s trucks, and a grateful father to be. I will also be talking with Adam Procell. Three days after turning 15, Adam was involved in a gang related homicide and received a life plus 25 year prison sentence. He would become the youngest and smallest inmate within the walls of Wisconsin’s most violent adult prison, also known as Gladiator School. Over the following 23 years of incarceration, he would renounce his gang membership, publish a book entitled, Anatomizing The Gang Culture, and work tirelessly to keep teenagers from joining gangs from behind bars. Today as a free man, he is the community outreach specialist for Partners In Hope, a faith based prison reentry program. He is also co-founder of Paradigm Shyft: Reentry Strategies and Consulting firm. I’m honored to have you here. These are conversations that should be happening more often. You know, it’s it’s all too often that I hear the prison systems failing to rehabilitate or educates inmates. And I’m really excited to to have this conversation with you.

Shannon Ross 3:05
Thank you for having us.

Leighann Lovely 3:08
So tell me a little bit about your re entry organizations that you both work with have and I’m excited to hear about it.

Shannon Ross 3:18
So the one that I am the Executive Director of is called The Community. And we focus on two sides, we focus on pre-entry, which is just kind of a clever term, I guess you could say, of emphasizing that reentry for the common way that this is looked at in this area with helping people when they go to prison, that reentry starts the second a person enters the system. And we do a lot with getting them ready getting the resources we’re doing right now a custom career assistance program that we’re building up to help those inside get custom information and mentorship on any career field they want to along with skills assessment tests, so they know what they’re good at. And also pairing that with the really important soft skills and just you know, internal work that is very important for anybody out in society. And then the outside of that we also showcase the successes, humanity and agency of people that have criminal records. So the preparation is then meeting opportunity when these people get out.

Leighann Lovely 4:15
Excellent. And what about you, Adam?

Adam Procell 4:18
I’m the community outreach specialist for Partners In Hope. And we’re a faith based prison reentry program. Our mission is kind of we seek to develop faith, nurture hope, and model life and work. And one of the first things I tell people, and it’s odd that I mentioned this in this sort of setting with you, is that a job will not keep you out of prison, in and of itself. So many people think that’s the cure all. So we do have partners and hope as we try to show you tangibly what success looks like by offering a two week pre vocational workshop where we bring in people who have gone through what these men or women have gone through and now own businesses and are extremely successful. And we feel that it’s so important to see what you can be, as cheesy or corny as that may sound, it’s very important to us.

Leighann Lovely 5:07
Yeah, absolutely. And it’s so true that, you know, a job is not, that’s not just what you need in order to, to be successful in, in anything in life. And, you know, that’s great, that’s great. I’d love to hear the journey, you know, of how you both have, you know, found your way to where you are with the organizations that you have, you know, to, to running or to creating the organizations that you have.

Shannon Ross 5:38
I’ll let him go first because his journey started before mine, so I think…

Adam Procell 5:42
He’s trying to say that I’m old I think, that’s what I’m hearing.

Shannon Ross 5:45
I wasn’t trying to, but yes.

Adam Procell 5:46
He’s funny as well. He’s a man with many hats. My journey started very young, I was a great kid. And this is the extremely abbreviated version. I moved to Milwaukee in the summer of 94, quickly got involved with those kids that your parents don’t want to associate with. Joined a gang. And three days after I turned 15, I was involved in a gang related homicide, and was sentenced to life in prison. I was the youngest person sent to the adult prison system, at probably five foot, 108 pounds. And I got into a lot of trouble. It took me a lot of a lot of time to understand that I can’t keep going that way. So very, very long story short. it’s hard to condense 23 years into a couple of sound bites, but renounced my gang affiliation, dedicated my life to keeping kids out of gangs and would serve 23 years, and would be released in 2018, when I was hired by the reentry organization I work for now.

Leighann Lovely 6:45
Excellent. So how did that lead to the creation of now, Paradigm Shyft?

Adam Procell 6:54
It was over the course of the last two years where we get the men and women in our program. And obviously, when I led this, this answer to you, I started with a job will not keep you out of prison. Obviously, at some point you need to become employed to provide for your family and yourself. And it becomes abundantly clear that for all these individuals that when we refer to people that would hire, a lot of times there was problems, because you can’t just throw somebody that has been in prison for 10, 15, 20, 30 years into an environment where, it’s not that they don’t want to work, but sometimes they aren’t accepted. And so Shannon, and I saw that there is this real, really a true need to help organizations understand how to deal with those with background challenges.

Leighann Lovely 7:43
Right. The employer or the employees at that organization not understanding that there may be a difference in background or a difference in the way that that person processes, I guess life in general, or the way that they react to different situations. And that doesn’t just come from somebody who has that background, but there are a lot of people, veterans, you know, people with mental health issues, but you definitely are tapping into a market that has, or shouldn’t say market, you’re tapping into, you know, individuals that are vastly going, I guess, ignored. And that need, need that attention.

Shannon Ross 8:29
It’s something that I’ve become really more aware of the past couple months. So a videographer for organization has a lot of connection with the sober living community. And there was a conversation that led to another meeting with somebody else who a woman who owns runs, Wisconsin Music Ventures. And she was speaking to me about her own story about how going through sobriety and her addiction and coming away from that and she right away, she grabbed on to what we were doing and said there’s a huge connection, I’d like to find ways to you know, work with sober living community and the decarceration community. And the other day, I met a woman who runs the housing component of IMPACT 2-1-1, and they’re a really broad resource in states across the country. And she wants to find ways that we can tie in with how to help those that are in the unsheltered community find employment as well. And so all these alignments between groups that have a certain stigma or have a certain view upon them by those that are you know own businesses, or that have a comfortable living somewhere in society, wherever it may be, and just finding ways how there’s a principle underneath all of that of getting past the stigma getting past, the way we see a person and then almost hopefully default, seeing two things. One, the story that’s not visibly there, when we look at a person kind of default, seeing more beyond the facade, and that allows you to have an empathy and then you can kind of connect with how do we then look at this person, as somebody we can incorporate, how do we look at this person not as a problem, but as an opportunity or a solution or as just, you know, part of the general family of society, we have. The other part of it, that’s really interesting, we were talking more about this me and Adam and Emily that I met with that IMPACT 2-1-1 really gave us a great story that was put together by Malcolm Gladwell that talks about it. There’s a cost to every individual that we ignore in society. And so we look at that and we see, okay, that’s somebody, I can turn my head and move on. But you basically just turned your head on $600,000, a million dollars, this is the amount of money we’re investing in problems. And we’re not getting anything on that return at all. And so whether it’s the unsheltered population, whether it’s the people that have an addiction, the sober living community, or people that come from prison, there’s a price tag you’re spending and you’re not aware of it that’s slowly seeping out of your pocket books and society, whether it’s taxpayer dollars, or whether it’s the cost of just having a freedom of mind, when you walk around and being able to have interactions with family or go somewhere, there’s a cost to all of that, that you’re not aware of that’s currently going on. So to be able to connect, when you see a person with all of that complexity of the story behind them, and the money that you’re currently investing, instead of just seeing them as a person you can turn away from that really encourages you to that, okay, now, I’m going to try and work with this person now, because they have my money, and they have a whole story that I’m not aware of that probably ties into my story, let me look a little longer here. Let me look into this. And let me actually invest some time. And that is how, you know, we then get to a point of solutions, like incorporating people in the workplace that we often ignore. And we see that there’s immense value there all this time. We just weren’t seeing it, because we were ignoring all these things that were there the entire time.

Leighann Lovely 11:43
Right. Right. And, you know, when I listened to you talking about this, I my brain goes to something that that is more understandable for me and my struggles, I’ve had struggles with mental health. And for so long, those people who struggled with mental health were pushed aside as Oh, well, they’re going to be a problem. You know, workers would say, Oh, you know, she’s a mental health, I don’t want her in, you know, working in my company. So I understand that prejudiced against it. And you know, more and more in society, we’re starting to see people opening up to that people talking about it. And I love the fact that these conversations are happening. I love the fact that companies that, that the public are starting to have conversations, not only about mental health, but the fact that you are coming on and advocating for these individuals that are out there. Because you’re right, every time we turn our backs on people who want to turn their lives around, we’re leaving, again, what you just said, all of that, just left to the wayside. So many people want to be a part of society. But when they’re alienated, they turn to something else. And then they become our problem again.

Shannon Ross 12:55
Right, a bigger problem.

Leighann Lovely 12:55
Right, right.

Adam Procell 12:57
And they go to what they know.

Leighann Lovely 12:58
Right, and these conversations need to happen, and it’s great, what you do is is absolutely amazing. So well, I obviously work, you know, in the staffing industry, so my goal is to help individuals, you know, find positions, but in order to do that, you know, I have to try to help some of these companies, you know, change the narrative in and change the way that they’re, you know, thinking. So when you approach companies, you know, what are some of the things that you try to, I guess, educate them on? What are some of the things that you talk to them or teach them about?

Shannon Ross 13:39
The the main one from the right away that stands out is I think the biggest need is, there’s a culture that a person is entering, when they get a job, and they come from a background of, you know, mental health or sober living or, or trying to, you know, get on a sober living path or the prison system, whatever kind of difficult background they may have, there is a culture they’re entering, that is oftentimes hostile to the narrative in the image of somebody from that type of a difficult background. And so that automatically can make a very good worker, a bad worker or problem because they’re getting an energy from the people. They’re they’re getting views or comments or even actual, you know, questions and attacks in some sense. And so the main thing to change to address is what culture are you bringing the person into, because if the culture is not amenable to a person actually effectively, being a good worker, there it doesn’t matter how good of a worker they are. You’re just handicapping yourself and them for not only the company but maybe even another person that they could be a good employee for, because they might be embittered by the situation. Something had happened at that job that requires them to, not requires but leads to them doing something where they can’t get a job somewhere else to go back to prison. Maybe they go back to, you know, the substance abuse they had, whatever it is, you’re setting that person and the company up and you know, just society in general, these little nicks upon it in a negative way, by not adjusting the culture you’re bringing that person into. It’s not on the person, it’s on the entire breadth of what’s going to be happening with the balance and the relationship between the employee and the business. And so looking at who you are, before you bring a person in, I think is incredibly important to start out with.

Adam Procell 15:23
And I think one of the things that Shannon and I emphasize is being transparent with companies, and trying not to pull the wool over their eyes, so to speak. And one of the areas that we feel is an issue is something as simple as using your calendar, or using your alarm on your phone. It seems commonplace to you and a lot of people in the workforce. But take somebody who just did 23 years in prison, who has had no dealings with a smartphone and tell them to be at this job at a certain time. Yes, now, should they be there? Absolutely. We’re not trying to make excuses. We find in our dealings that when we set up meetings with people who have gotten out of prison, so often, they are always running late. And it could be a plethora of things. They don’t have a car, they’re taking a bus, so public transportation is never reliable. But a big part is they just don’t wake up on time. And it’s something as simple as your alarm on your phone. So we try to tell companies that, look, you have this great employee who really wants to do whatever he can to help your your company thrive. But look at it from this individual’s perspective. So we’ll try to teach some implementations you can do is, as, I know, I feel silly saying it, but how to use the calendar on your phone or the alarm setting on your phone. Or understand that a lot of people have parole officers, supervision agents, and some of the rules that they have to abide by might conflict with something in the company, or they can’t be around certain things. So there’s just so many different things that a company needs to look at, that will Shannon and I will try to help them see.

Shannon Ross 17:01
It’s kind of like you could equate it to a car. You might have a car that doesn’t really work right now. And you might look at that as a Junker and you want to get rid of it. And I’ve had people who no cars tell me this, how they will make a killing off of taking a car that somebody else doesn’t think works anymore, a $20 fix makes that car good as new. So it’s like these little small things, in a person are very similar, where it’s a perfectly good employee, it’s a perfectly good person it’s a perfectly good individual to have in your company or organization. But there’s little tweaks that just need to be addressed. And so you can lose all of that by thinking the person is worthless, because of the small tweaks you’re not aware of, to be patient with. And so having an understanding and to help with that can, you know, give you a great employee, just you know, with that, right, you know, understanding of the situation.

Leighann Lovely 17:49
Right. So do you, do you, not you obviously, you work with the individuals to help them as they are transitioning. Do you, do you go in and meet with organizations and do a training with with organizations?

Shannon Ross 18:05
That’s the area that we’re right now, I mean we’re talking to companies about that. And so that’s exactly what we’re going to be doing, we’re trying to make sure that the process we put in place is strong, we don’t want to just say, Hey, we can do this, and then we come in, and they don’t have a track record. So we are confident that we can based on our experience with this population, we have connections with universities, you know, with businesses that we’ve been talking to about it. We have individuals that are in our, you know, network on terms of the consulting side, who have successful businesses that are formerly incarcerated, who are other consultants we lean on. So just making sure that we’re putting together a process that is really going to address the way people in the company see those that have a criminal record. So that is exactly what we will be doing. That’s the beginning stages right now of following through with that.

Leighann Lovely 18:54
That’s excellent. That’s great. I mean, it’s, it’s no different than, you know, somebody who’s struggling, I guess, with post traumatic stress and, and I suppose in a way that when you’re thrust into a society, that would be completely different. In 23 years, it would be completely different, I’m assuming, from what you walked away from, you’re gonna have to, you’re gonna have to adjust. Companies, some of them are not very forward thinking and compared to, you know, compared to other companies. But yeah, being able to work with both sides of them in order to, you know, help them you know, I guess, make a match. I mean, it’s an amazing thing to do so. So tell me a little bit more about the works that you do with, you know, your organizations, whether it be The Community or Paradigm Shyft, tell me a little bit more, you know, about different, you know, other things that you are doing through those organizations.

Shannon Ross 19:54
Yeah, I’m a little bit of a my background is I spent 17 Yours in the Wisconsin prison system. And I went in when I was 19 and 2003. I got out about 10 months ago now. And I was very fortunate to be able to get out and kind of hit the ground. People say hit the ground running, I think that’s an understatement for how I hit the ground. I had a vast amount of support and a mental infrastructure going in, that allowed me to take that experience and digest it differently than so many people do. And I don’t say that with any sense of, you know, pride or, you know, arrogance, not at all, it’s something that I was put in a position to be gratefully utilize the resources I was given and the blessings to, then now I feel an obligation to help others with in that same vein with lessons I was able to see and take in in a more, I think effective way. In life, it’s just as important to learn the right lesson as it is to you know, learn a lesson. Like we just say, you know, learn, but sometimes if you’re learning just to be learning, and it’s not really the accurate thing you need to have taken away from that experience, you actually just, you know, went away from experience worse than you went into it. So to seeing what ways to really digest what you’re going through. And that experience in prison, I was very fortunate to experience that. And so coming out and with the community, just finding so many ways to really connect with other organizations doing good work. And that’s kind of how we what we bring into Paradigm Shyft is, it’s not just us that are helping you we have so many other individuals, professionals, leaders, that we’re leaning on to make sure that we are offering really a good valuable insight and service. That makes it I think, really unique, we there are other organizations that consult, and they surely have a great, you know, track record for trying to help people out. The thing that we saw that we noticed when we were having these questions from businesses that we were talking to and from universities, saying the universities are going to be getting a lot more students that are formerly incarcerated, and even faculty. And there’s a certain culture there where they’re, even them, even the universities are not fully understanding their own biases there and the irrelevance of some of those biases. So we just saw a really interesting opportunity with the, you know, government, university and private sector connections, we had to offer value based on this balance in this world. We’re in this world and all in between all these entities to know how to speak to each one of them in a different way based on their needs to understand how to utilize this population. And I say utilize, that can sound negative, like using them like a tool, but it’s more so getting the you know, advantages of the strong employees they are, which then also allows them to grow and succeed upon release. So it’s a very mutual, you know, beneficial relationship.

Leighann Lovely 22:53
Yeah, absolutely. And utilize is not a not a bad word at all, when it’s when it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. I mean, I connect to people all the time so that they can utilize each other’s services. And, you know, that’s, it’s, it’s great that I want to say that that’s not a bad word at all.

Shannon Ross 23:12
I know my former journalist, colleague, Gretchen Schutlz, would hate for me to not say this, I apologize, I should have said “use”. She always says “utilize” is not a word. Haha.

Leighann Lovely 23:23
Haha, oh okay. Well, if people want to get more involved, and you know, help, help with with your cause, you know, how can they do that?

Adam Procell 23:35
They can reach out to us via email. My email is Adam@paradigmshyft.org.

Shannon Ross 23:42
And mine is Shannon@paradigmshyft.org. So the site is currently being constructed. So it should be very soon, if not a couple of days when it will be live.

Leighann Lovely 23:51
Okay. And you’re both on LinkedIn.

Shannon Ross 23:53
Oh, yeah. Yep.

Adam Procell 23:54

Leighann Lovely 23:54
Excellent. Well, thank you so much for your time today. It’s been an amazing, also a very educational conversation for me. You know, I forgive, or forgive me for being naive in some of these areas, because I’m still learning myself. So, but thank you again for coming.

Shannon Ross 24:13
Thank you for having us.

Adam Procell 24:14
We appreciate it Leighann.

Leighann Lovely 24:15
Thank you for tuning in. If you have a comment or you’d like to just join the conversation, please reach out to us on LinkedIn. If you are a company and you would like assistance with your open positions. I’d love to hear from you. Or if you are looking for a new position you can apply at our website at www.SITEStaffingInc.com. And finally, if you enjoyed our podcast today, share us, like us or leave a comment. Please tune in next time. I’m Leighann Lovely with SITE Staffing, and this is HRables: HR In Bite-Sized Pieces. We are now available on Apple podcast, Google podcast, iHeartRadio, player FM, or wherever you get your podcasts.