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Co-Active Global Newletter


For many people, a criminal record can be a life long sentence, often far outlasting any time served within the justice system.

The stigma associated with having been to prison not only severely limits the opportunities to find equitable employment, but it also dramatically increases the likelihood of re-offense.

In 2007, Baillie Aaron got to know the profound impact of this stigma while teaching entrepreneurship to incarcerated youth and adults near Boston, MA.

Baillie’s journey into the criminal justice system began while a Harvard undergrad, in response to a lecture on Psychology, Economics and Public Policy when her professor noted that regardless of qualifications, the most significant determining factor in making a hiring decision was whether or not the applicant had a clean background check.

She asked herself, “How could people with criminal records be expected to re-engage in society and become economically self-sufficient, if they are always passed over in favor of less qualified candidates without any blemishes on their records.”

As Baillie worked with people in prison, she began to see that nearly all wanted more than their current reality, and they desperately wanted to be law-abiding. They just didn’t know how to get there, like anyone seeking to make significant changes in their lives.

“In the prisons I worked in, I met men and women who had faced severe challenges most of us can’t imagine – broken families, homelessness, histories of physical and sexual abuse, unmet mental health needs’ says Baillie ‘yet who also had a diversity of clear interests and passions. Some of my students, for example, had managed sizeable staff and budgets – just in illegal businesses that could just as easily have been legitimate. The prison system holds an unbelievable amount of untapped, latent talent and potential.”

It wasn’t long before she realized her work with people inside the justice system went well beyond volunteerism; it fueled a passion that would become Spark Inside, the first organization to provide coaching to young people both within and outside of the prison system, supporting them “Through the Gates” to help them re-discover their passion and dignity.

Spark Inside opened it’s doors in 2012, holding it’s launch on the steps to the House of Commons at the UK Parliament. Since then, it has grown rapidly, serving over 150 youth and adults within the criminal justice system. With funding from a variety of sources including earned revenue from workshops and coaching covered by the justice system or other commissioning bodies, private donations, and grants, this social enterprise boasts a team of 19 freelance coaches, many of whom are CTI trained, with several others on staff.

Standing firmly at the helm of this growth, Baillie understands her role as leader, holding the vision and charting the course for Spark Inside. With a team of equally passionate and committed coaches, Spark Inside delivers powerful workshops around the hero’s journey and options for one-on-one coaching.

“The workshop is divided into three two-hour sessions which take participants through the stages of transformation that the hero undergoes. The time between sessions allows participants to look into their own lives and see where they are within that transformation, applying the learning to whatever personal challenge they face. We’ve seen people tackle challenges like drug or alcohol misuse, separation from a gang, or transitioning back into mainstream life. For those interested, we then give the option of partnering with a coach for ongoing, one-on-one support.”

Baillie’s legacy along with that of Spark Inside is evident through the changes in the people they serve.

One Spark Inside participant reflecting on his experience in the program comments, “No punishment can stop you committing crime if you don’t want to stop. You need an understanding of what you can gain from not doing it.”

Still completing time in prison, this Spark Inside participant brings a new outlook to the time he has left, in addition to tools and techniques to keep him focused on the future.

“Ultimately, our vision is to shift the paradigm within the justice system from a predominately directive model to a more open, compassionate and rehabilitative framework,” Baillie comments, “Over the next few years, we will be introducing complementary workshops for prison officers, and eventually the larger police force. Our aim is to equip them with practical coaching tools to develop safe and trusting relationships in minimal time.”

At the same time, Baillie also is quick to point out that while developing strong role models within the system is important, it must go beyond the prison walls as well.

“There are fantastic prison officers and mentors with criminal convictions who form deep and meaningful bonds with people in prison. However, to truly enable social mobility and ensure that people leaving prison can be integrated into mainstream society, I believe that people leaving prison also need friends, role models and colleagues who have no affiliation with the criminal justice system whatsoever. I would argue that it’s our responsibility as members of society to actively try to support people leaving prison to make the transition. My challenge to you is to coach, mentor, or hire someone with a criminal record.”

Through her own process of fully expressing her leadership potential, Baillie’s life purpose statement has emerged as “building businesses that catapult people over glass ceilings toward reaching their dreams.”

As such, her leadership fosters a culture of increasing clarity allowing the values of innate resourcefulness and human dignity to inform the decisions of Spark Inside. Baillie’s dedication to this purpose stands as a foundational source of strength, continually empowering her colleagues and those she serves as her vision continues to evolve.

Other Links:
Spark Inside: http://www.sparkinside.org

Donate Now: Help Spark Inside by donating here.

Ted Talk: Once a Thief, Always a Thief?

Ted Talk: What I Learned from Youth in Prison