The concept behind the local not-for-profit group RecycleForce can be stated in a very elegant maxim: “We’re recycling electronics and recycling lives.” When you get into the nitty-gritty details, RecycleForce is not nearly as refined, but accepting things that are rough around the edges is integral to its mission.
Entrepreneur Gregg Keesling hit on this set of solutions to two persistent problems in the early 2000s: Give people who have just been released from jail or prison a much-needed opportunity for temporary employment by training and hiring them to salvage recyclable materials from electronic waste. The ex-offenders also receive comprehensive services designed to get their lives back on track, including job skills, personal counseling, professional mentoring, literacy training and connections to full-time, permanent jobs.
RecycleForce has employed thousands of formerly incarcerated individuals since 2006 and recycled about 10 million pounds of waste. But there’s so much more to the story. Keesling grew up about an hour outside of Indianapolis, and one of the major themes of his life has been transformation. Beginning at 16, he played a minor role in the drug trade, procuring marijuana with his friends and regularly driving his family’s station wagon to Florida to pick up pounds of pot to transport back to Indiana for people who would pay a delivery fee. He moved to Jamaica for its easy access to pot, but he ended up becoming a straight-laced businessman who developed a vacation resort and joined the Rotary Club.
In this week’s edition of the IBJ Podcast, Keesling discusses how RecycleForce’s new headquarters in Indianapolis will help it do more with the recyclable materials and the people it trains. But he also talks at length about his own story and how he has learned the importance of giving people a chance to change and succeed.
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Looking for another podcast to try? Check out IBJ’s The Freedom Forum with Angela B. Freeman, a monthly discussion about diversity and inclusion in central Indiana’s business community.