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Inmate to entrepreneur: Fresh Start program aims to prevent recidivism

COLORADO SPRINGS – It’s an initiative that’s helping those who are currently or used to be in prison start their own businesses and in turn, prevent them from returning to a life of crime.

The Fresh Start Investment program officially kicked off in January and since then dozens of people have completed the eight-week course.

News 5 sat down with one graduate to find out what’s next for him.

“Gnomer” Darren Waltman said, “Now I’m going to go city-wide making businesses look beautiful, but with their permission.”

Waltman shared that he spent several years doing graffiti in Denver which led to him falling in with a bad crowd.

“They got me for conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery.”

He ended up in prison. Between the robbery and graffiti he served time for less than two years.

“I’ve been out for 10 years, but when I was in northern Colorado there was zero support, no one to tell me how to put together a business.”

He eventually moved to Colorado Springs and connected with Pastor Ben Anderson and Fresh Start Investment. The program teaches current and former convicts how to start a business, develop a budget, and much more.

Pastor Ben Anderson, executive director of Solid Rock Community Development Corporation, said, “In order for us to improve the economic development of southeast Colorado Springs our goal and focus is to do that through business development.”

Since the program started 11 businesses have been established.

Anderson said, “They include design, they include a hair stylist, they include food trucks.”

Waltman’s business is called Sign Gnome.

“I like to do big murals and hand-done signage inside the business.”

Since registering his business a month ago he’s already done work at several places in downtown Colorado Springs.

“Once you’ve got that clean slate and you’re out it is time to move on.”

He’s now focused on expanding his business and helping others get a fresh start.

Anderson says Fresh Start is available to anyone who has or is currently serving time in Colorado. Another round of classes started Wednesday with over 20 participants already signed up.

Caiti Blase

Caiti Blase

Multimedia Journalist
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