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5 Key Steps to Positive Transformation Based on Lived Experience

CoreCivic | 2/29/24 7:39 AM

Josh Smith had a difficult childhood. Growing up in the inner city of Nashville, Tennessee, he had a single mother who worked hard to try to provide for her family, but he eventually left his home at a young age. By the time he was 16 years old, Smith faced 10 felony charges. He ultimately dropped out of high school and was rearrested at the age of 21, spending the next five years in federal prison.

Since his release in 2003, Smith built a multi-million-dollar business, invested millions of dollars in real estate, and founded a non-profit called the Fourth Purpose Foundation that not only helps incarcerated people find success, but supports correctional officers in understanding how important their role is in impacting peoples' lives and promoting public safety.

How did he do it? Smith says his story came with no shortage of challenges, but there were five keys to success that helped him along the way.

His first key was his faith. During his time in prison, Smith says he grew his relationship with God, but it didn't end there.

"At the same time, learning the principles of do unto others as you would have done to you, transforming who I am internally, where I'm not that same selfish person I was in the beginning," said Smith. "Understanding the role of society God created, and understanding how that works. There's no question, I wouldn't be where I am today without that transformational change God has allowed me to go through."

Josh Smith Headshot

His second key was believing in himself.

"The biggest thing I struggled to help people understand is believing that they can," said Smith. "Most people never start because they just don't believe they can. In prison, you're told all the time you're never going to be worth anything. Your family tells you that, society, everything, so the most difficult thing I find in talking to people is getting that belief that it can be different—you can turn this around."

Smith shared that during his time in prison, he was exposed to various kinds of people. This included white-collar criminals who were doctors and lawyers who lived a different lifestyle than he had experienced in his youth. He says living with them and learning from their professional expertise and success changed his way of thinking, and he was able to see he had the power to change the trajectory of his life. He says just seeing that it was possible, that he could do it, he believed he could, and his faith guided that belief.

This led to his third key to success: investing in your education.

"I spent 53 months in prison, and during that time I learned a lot," said Smith. "I tell people all the time, while you're in prison, don't waste your time. Become a student, learn all you can."

Even after his release, Smith never stopped learning. When he started his business, he studied how to grow it, how to attract investors, how to create a business plan, how to apply for a loan through the Small Business Administration, and even how to be a good manager. Smith says he also learned from fellow inmates who had different structures, routines, and family lifestyles than his own.

His fourth key to success is to surround yourself with positive mentors.

"My favorite book says a wise person has many counselors," said Smith.

During his time in prison, Smith grew a close relationship with a chaplain who supported him and mentored him both spiritually and financially. This chaplain ended up being one of the first people to invest in Smith's business, and the two of them are still close to this day. Smith says it is important to cultivate positive relationships like these and continue to learn and grow from them.

"As somebody many would say is an accomplished businessperson, I still seek counsel all the time," said Smith.

Finally, his fifth key to success: As it comes to you, give back to others. Even before Smith's business started seeing incredible success, he was invited to visit prisons and jails across the United States and Central America to speak with inmates. He taught them about transformation and how to create a life of stability and success after release. After he sold his business, he turned his focus to founding and growing the Fourth Purpose Foundation.

"When we started the Fourth Purpose Foundation, we prayed through the vision of it and really felt like instead of helping people as they transition out, God was calling us to impact people's lives while they were inside of prison, making it a place of transformation," he said.

The Fourth Purpose Foundation aims to create meaningful change inside of corrections and promote safer communities by fostering a culture of transformation.

"Those are the building blocks of real success. The challenges were many, but I can tell you with determination, faith, God's hand, and educating yourself through the process, you can be successful," said Smith.

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Topics: Reducing Recidivism, News