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Ex-offenders are making 'Clean Decisions' at this startup

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One day in prison costs $79, but a day on probation costs only $3.42. This is a statistic provided by Clean Decisions, a Washington, D.C.-based startup that employs ex-offenders.

Will Avila, an ex-offender himself, founded Clean Decisions and then his non-profit Changing Perceptions after his release from prison. He realized how difficult it is for ex-offenders -- which he calls returning citizens -- to find housing and employment after release.

Avila recognizes how easy it is for returning citizen to fall back into a pattern of bad behavior. His goal is to keep his employees and those working with Changing Perceptions out of the system. He wants to give them an opportunity to see value in themselves and set goals and work towards achieving them.

With Clean Decisions, these returning citizens have the opportunity to "unleash their full potential, break negative inter-generational cycles in their families, build a path to a middle-class lifestyle, and have an opportunity to give back."

"Unleash their full potential, break negative inter-generational cycles in their families, build a path to a middle class lifestyle, and have an opportunity to give back."
Clean Decisions

It can be difficult for returning citizens to find housing, employment, and community when they are released from incarceration. There isn't a magic button that makes life normal again, and oftentimes it is difficult to reintegrate with society.

The Clean Decisions team works in many capacities, with a number of skills. They clean kitchens, maintain outdoor spaces, work as event staff and are open for special projects.

Through this organization, all returning citizens also have access to a pro bono therapist, are invited to weekly community-building gatherings, and meet monthly with leadership to talk about personal and professional goals.

At Clean Decisions, Avila and his peers recognize that staying out of the system is more than a 9-to-5 job. It can be easy to fall back into old patterns and influences if there isn't a strong community of support. The Clean Decisions team is particularly proud of "Pancake Saturday," a day where the whole group comes together for breakfast.

Charlie Curtis, the GM of Clean Decisions, said Pancake Saturday is one of the best parts about being a member of the Clean Decisions team.

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Charlie Curtis talks Pancake Saturdays

Clean Decisions was selected as part of singer John Legend's initiative, Unlocked Futures. Partnering with his organization Free America, Bank of America, and New Profit, Inc., eight entrepreneurs who have been impacted by the criminal justice system were selected to participate in Unlocked Futures accelerator program.

Each entrepreneur was selected for their work to "break down barriers to opportunity in America." Unlocked Futures hopes to provide an avenue for funding these business owners so they can grow their organizations and impact, all behind a shared goal of ending mass incarceration in America.

The grant Clean Decisions received through Unlocked Futures will help Avila to employ more returning citizens and could even help them find housing. Avila said access to housing for ex-offenders is a major problem and lack of housing often puts people back in the neighborhoods that got them into trouble.

Will Avila on Unlocked Futures

Clean Decisions' staff works staffing events, cleaning restaurants and doing landscaping and cleaning around the D.C. area. They are also working with the Department of Small and Local Business Development on "Clean Teams," an initiative to keep D.C.'s streets and neighborhoods clean, which also makes them safer, more desirable places to live and work.

Both Clean Decisions and Avila's non-profit Changing Perceptions have been able to partner with the city of D.C. to create Aspire to Entrepreneurship. With Avila's help multiple new businesses around D.C. have been started by returning citizens and are employing returning citizens in the area.

Deputy Mayor Courtney R. Snowden said in a statement to Circa, "We created Aspire to Entrepreneurship to help returning citizens harness their entrepreneurial spirit and create opportunity for themselves. We are empowering Washingtonians to be their own bosses and give back to their community, creating a new generation of small business owners and local job creators. I am so proud of what our Aspire participants and mentors, like Will, have achieved, I know they will continue climbing to new heights."

The work Avila is doing is being supported by the city of D.C. and is now gaining national attention through the first cohort of Unlocked Futures.

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