Many Ice House facilitators say their course participants don’t need facilitators to teach them entrepreneurial skills. The participants possess them already. So the issue is how they’re choosing to apply those skills.
Take the participants in the Ice House classes offered by the Hampshire County Sheriff’s Department to the men in its correctional facility. “They do have an entrepreneurial mindset, but they’re using it in a different way because they’re driven by other things,” said Rafael Santos, the job placement counselor, and employment coordinator.
Creating Value for Others
When course participants start to explore the eight life lessons in the Ice House model and understand entrepreneurship as the self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others, light bulbs go off.
“We want them to transfer those skills and see there’s a legal way to use them,” Santos said. “I made light of this a couple of weeks ago. I said, ‘You know logistics. You know supply and demand. You know marketing. The reality is, you’re making a choice in how you use that knowledge.’”
Santos and Ann Marie Basile, an adult basic education teacher who co-facilitates the Ice House classes, often hear inmates talking about circumstances beyond their control. “Often they get caught up in the collective mindset, and they feel lost, but if you soak in these eight lessons, you are in a good position to understand that you are 100% in control of your circumstances,” Santos said.
Developing and Adapting Curriculum
The inmates Santos and Basile work with usually have sentences of less than three years. Or the county has incarcerated them while awaiting trial or sentencing. So, their release is never far from mind. The two educators remind them that “they don’t have to leave here with an ‘ex-offender’ sign on them and feel that their options are limited,” said Santos, who’s been with the sheriff’s department for 15 years. “They don’t have to buy into the collective mindset of the rest of society.”
When Santos and Basile read Who Owns the Ice House: Eight Life Lessons from an Unlikely Entrepreneur, they immediately recognized its potential. They were trained in late 2021 and co-facilitated their first class in early 2022.
Santos learned that Basile had developed an entire curriculum around a growth mindset, and the Ice House model dovetails with the messaging she was already using. It also aligned well with the intentional language they use with inmates. For example, Santos said, “I don’t like to use the word ‘mistakes.’ You make conscious decisions, and you have to own them. Ice House offers an opportunity to look at that a little deeper.”
Building Trust With Participants
While facilitating, they consciously build the trust level and encourage the men to be supportive of their classmates. “As tough as our guys want to show us they are, they truly lack self-confidence,” Basile said. “We have a stable environment where we are very communicative, so they have an opportunity to speak about what they want to do and how they want to do it—and not be judged.”
Thanks to their longtime careers with the department, Basile and Santos had a wealth of experience and knowledge to draw upon when designing their new class. Here are some of their suggestions for successful rollouts:
- Implement with enthusiasm. Pitch the content to participants. “Make them wonder why you’re so happy about this program,” Basile said.
- Pay attention to language. Introduce words that are simple but mark a change in your mindset. we say, ‘You’re not there yet’ instead of ‘You failed’ because ‘fail’ is such a common word for them,” Basile explained. “Or we say, ‘Don’t look at your missteps as failures. They’re just steps.’”
- Incorporate other resources. There are plenty of Ice House videos and activities. Still, there are also many other assets—for example, videos about people overcoming adversity—that might resonate with your audience and reinforce the lessons.
- Make the program yours. Give personal examples (but not too many). Invite speakers from your community. “That’s going to bring the material together and generate a-ha moments,” Santos said.
- Keep the long game in mind. Having an entrepreneurial mindset is not about quick fixes or short-term solutions. As Santos often tells people, “When it comes to employment, it’s not about your ability to find it. It’s your ability to keep it. The same goes for relationships and finances and housing.”
- Put your heart into it. “To run a course like this, you need a real desire to get this message across,” Santos said.
For more information about the Hampshire County Sheriff’s Department’s implementation of the Ice House curriculum, read this case study.