Business program prepares prison inmates to defy the odds

Training and placement efforts help graduates make better lives for themselves and their families.

After he and his parents left the Soviet Union in the late ’80s with dreams of eventually immigrating to America, 12-year-old Leo Novsky sold Russian trinkets on the streets of Rome to help the family survive and to save up for the next leg of their journey.

That’s where he developed his personal mantra to, as he says, “hustle harder and defy the odds.”

On their last day in Rome, his father was arrested for operating without a business license. “Luckily, he was released two hours before our flight left for America,” says Novsky. The family eventually settled in the United States and Novsky went on to earn an MBA and become a serial entrepreneur, coach and business catalyst.

A chance to volunteer at a business-plan competition sponsored by Defy Ventures at a Southern California prison a few years ago jogged difficult memories of that last day in Rome when he saw his dad hauled off by police.

“What I saw in that prison were not inmates and criminals, but men with the hustle, grit and skills to succeed — all facing a challenging transition back into mainstream America, hungry to defy the odds and make better lives for themselves, their families, their communities,” he explains. “It inspired me to bring Defy Ventures to Washington.”

Novsky is now executive director of Defy Ventures Washington and operates a program at the Monroe Correctional Facility.

The program combines teaching critical skills in employment, accountability and entrepreneurship to a select group of highly motivated students while creating opportunities for mentorship from local business leaders. It has been taught in five other states, has more than 1,700 graduates, boasts a 65 percent employment placement rate and, so far, is marking a remarkably low (less than 5 percent) recidivism rate.

In search of local business partners to help with employment placement and housing challenges upon release, Novsky reached out to Coast Property Management and offered to fill open maintenance and repair positions with his graduates.

“A lot of our graduates have repair and maintenance skills, but they also need housing.” he explains. “As an apartment property manager who can pair up both housing and a job, Coast is a perfect partner.”

Lynette Jacobson, VP of human resources at Coast, is excited about the partnership as well.

“Our industry is challenged to pay the wages that most of the construction trades offer, so we are actively looking for talent all the time,” she said. “Partnering with Defy Washington helps us not only keep up with maintenance and repair needs at our properties, but we can be part of reuniting families and building communities which are things consistent with our mission to favorably impact the lives of people through our work.”

Coast is expecting to place its first Defy graduate this spring out of the Monroe program. “There’s a transition period, though, where we restrict their access to apartments, subject them to random drug tests and put other limits around them until they prove themselves,” explains Jacobson.

Novsky sees Defy’s partnership with Coast as just the beginning. “The people at Coast are leaders in the industry. As they help us prove hiring Defy graduates is good for their business, other businesses from other industries will take notice.”

Novsky is proud of his graduates if not nostalgic, reflecting back on his youth hustling and selling trinkets in the streets of Rome. “Defy students constantly remind me of how to hustle harder and to defy the odds. They are ready to prove themselves to be the best employees and contractors if given a chance.”

Tom Hoban is chairman and co-founder of the Hoban Family Office, a real estate investment and services enterprise in Everett.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

With the Olympic mountains in the background, the first passenger flight by Alaska Airlines Flight 2878 departs for Portland on opening day of the Paine Field Terminal on Monday, March 4, 2019 in Everett, Wash. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Alaska Airlines stalls plan for extra flights in Everett

Business has been sluggish, but the airline says it will offer 12 flights a day at Paine Field in the new year.

In this May 2020 photo, garbage cans line a residential street on trash pickup day in Mukilteo. In November, voters will weigh in on whether the city should encourage more high density housing. (Sue Misao / Herald file)
Mukilteo asks for input on housing density, and it’s complicated

Here’s a guide to what voters should know about the advisory ballot measure. What does it actually do?

People hold signs in protest of the vaccine mandate after Boeing announced it would terminate workers who do not comply on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Some Boeing workers protest in Everett over vaccine mandate

The Boeing Company announced earlier this week that its workers must be vaccinated by Dec. 8.

FILE - In this file photo dated Monday, March 11, 2019, rescuers work at the scene of an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  The number of deaths in major air crashes around the globe fell by more than half in 2019 according to a report released Wednesday Jan. 1, 2020, by the aviation consultancy To70, revealing the worst crash for the year was an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX on March 10 that lost 157 lives. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, FILE)
Former Boeing test pilot pleads not guilty in 737 Max case

He’s the first person to be charged with a crime in connection with the Indonesia and Ethiopia crashes.

FILE - In this March 14, 2019 file photo, Ethiopian relatives of crash victims mourn at the scene where the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed shortly after takeoff killing all 157 on board, near Bishoftu, south-east of Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia. Relatives of some of the passengers who died in the crash will mark the two-year anniversary of the disaster on Wednesday, March 10, 2021, by seeking a reversal of government orders that let Boeing 737 Max jets fly again.  (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, File)
Boeing pilot involved in Max testing is indicted in Texas

He’s accused of giving the FAA false information about systems that played a role in two deadly crashes.

Top (L-R): Kim Daughtry, Steve Ewing. Bottom (L-R): Gary Petershagen, Marcus Tageant.
Developers court Lake Stevens council incumbents with over $20K

Over half of the campaign dollars for four candidates came from people tied to real estate or property development.

Traffic drives in view of a massive Boeing Co. production plant, where images of jets decorate the hangar doors, Friday, April 23, 2021, in Everett, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Boeing says workers must get the COVID vaccine by Dec. 8

“Compliance with these requirements is a condition of employment,” says an internal company presentation.

The Boeing 737 Max 10 airplane landing at Boeing Field in Seattle on June 18. (Chona Kasinger / Bloomberg)
Boeing ramps up 737 Max but 787 deliveries are still blocked

Boeing last month maintained its steady trickle of sales as it navigates the aviation downturn.

A handful of Northwest Union Carpenter members picket in front of the new Marysville civic center construction site on the sixth day of a region wide union carpenter strike on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021 in Marysville, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Carpenters strike ends with new contract and a $10 raise

Roughly 500 union members were working on projects in Snohomish County. It was among the largest strikes in 18 years.

FILE - In this March 20, 2020, file photo, the Amazon campus outside the company headquarters in Seattle sits nearly deserted on an otherwise sunny and warm afternoon. Amazon said Monday, Oct. 11, 2021 it will allow many tech and corporate workers to continue working remotely indefinitely, as long as they can commute to the office when necessary. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Amazon to allow employees to work remotely indefinitely

Although most cannot work remotely because their duties include grabbing orders and delivering them.

With new owners demanding the Grand Apartments' longtime residents leave, Stephen Teixeira, 52, documents issues at the Rockefeller Avenue building, on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021 in Everett, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Life at the Grand Apartments in Everett is now a ‘nightmare’

Longtime residents say the new owner, an investment company, is trying to bully them out of the building.

Bob Martin, 80, owner of the The Stag Barber and Styling in Snohomish. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)
$90,000 fine doesn’t stop defiant Snohomish barber

Bob Martin appealed a state penalty for ignoring coronavirus rules and lost. It has not cut into his business.