Valerie Ochoa wakes up most days of the week excited for her work day. She commutes to her office, typically by a shuttle bus, where she’s greeted by lines of desks, monitors and cubicles where managers peek over the dividers as they coach her eager peers.
Once she gets to her office, Ochoa checks her email, looks at her calendar and meets with the sales and development team that she leads about the tasks of the day, all with a smile.
“It’s the same as if you walk into any other business office in America,” Ochoa said.
The only difference between her and the typical focused, stern female marketing executive adorned in a pantsuit most people imagine is that Ochoa wears orange scrubs and attends conference calls from inside Perryville prison complex in Goodyear.
“Some of the employees at the corporate headquarters [of the client I’ve been working for for three years] think that I’m actually one of their own internal employees,” Ochoa said. “And when they find out [that I’m incarcerated], they’re shocked.”
Her client’s response is something Televerde employees are used to, despite the company’s 25-year history.
Televerde, a company that works to drive sales and marketing revenue for global tech industries by utilizing the growing population of incarcerated women, began partnering with the Arizona Department of Corrections in 1995 to create a new kind of employment opportunity, help reduce recidivism and generate overall state revenue.
The company’s employees work in small, focused, exclusive teams in and outside of prisons to target market prospects, engage buyers, close deals and support customers of global tech giants like SAP, IBM, Adobe, Microsoft and more.
According to a 2019 research study done by Arizona State University’s Seidman Research Institute, the Televerde program saved $13.3 million in annual taxpayer dollars and saved $9.5 million for the state.
“The study validates our position that discarding someone for the worst mistake they made on the worst day of their life is a waste of human potential,” Televerde CEO Morag Lucey said in a January press release about the conclusions of the study.
That same study revealed that women who participated in the program earned an average of $10,100 for purchasing clothing, securing housing and paying for transportation after their release.
Women at Perryville who are part of the program are paid an hourly wage that makes up $21.5 million total in earnings.
About a third of it they keep, another third gets allocated within the program and the last third gets redirected to the Department of Corrections for building renovations, personnel hires and other expenses.
The study also found that recidivism, or the rate at which formerly incarcerated people return to prison, is 91% lower among women who go through the program compared to the national rate among females released from other state prisons.
The numbers have only propelled the company to do better by their clients and by their incarcerated employees.
“The company has 600 people, of which 400 of them are in incarcerated facilities and are sales, marketing and technology experts,” Lucey said.
Women who have gone through the program have seen more than professional development within themselves, in part because the company’s philosophy anchors on women getting a second chance.
“[Televerde] has been a pivotal point in my life. I wouldn’t know where I would be at today had I not taken advantage of a program like Televerde,” Ochoa said.
Since Ochoa leads a small team that works for one client, she is able to see the impact of their work on her peers and she can contribute to the success of other incarcerated women.
“I see women from all kinds of different backgrounds; some with education, some without, some with low confidence, some that are broken.
“But I also see the ‘aha’ moment. I see the light that shines in their eyes. I see women being empowered. I see women who have a chance at building a life for themselves,” Ochoa said.
Several women who participated in the program while incarcerated are still working for Televerde, either with the same account or they have taken a higher leadership position.
Employment with Televerde after release is not guaranteed but Tina Stine, a formerly incarcerated Televerde employee, is now the inside marketing representative for SAP.
“This is our end game. It’s not just a job, it’s a career,” Stine said. “We hope to retire from Televerde.”
Through Televerde, Stine works with state and local governments, sharing the success story of SAP and how their technology helped the state of Indiana. She explains to state officials why they have a high rate of infant mortality and how they can address the opioid epidemic.
“We’ve also been able to use that same kind of technology with the state of Arkansas to take a look at how we reduce recidivism. It’s kind of ironic that that’s what I’m able to do today,” Stine said, revealing that she’s been in and out of prison since 1987.
But the program has overwhelmingly helped her become proud of herself and her accomplishments since leaving Perryville.
The Televerde women have improved themselves in more ways than one. Along with a miniature master of business administration degree, women who go through the program are learning that they are not the sum of their mistakes.
“You understand and value yourself because somebody outside of you — no matter the circumstances, or for whatever you were convicted of — said that you were worth it and that you’re a winner,” Stine said.
They are learning how to make better decisions, work in teams, talk to authority figures and become confident in their choices and opinions.
“I feel empowered. I feel as if I’m a person that matters. I’m making changes in all of the communities that I touch, not just my colleagues here within the complex or within the call center, but also with our clients,” Ochoa said.
And if women don’t continue working for Televerde, 94.1% of participants are in paid positions five years after their release that appear to be in high-paying jobs, according to the Seidman research study.
Televerde’s success extends beyond its participants. The Seidman research shows that the children of Televerde participants could be 11 times less likely to drop out of high school.
“Every company we work with is supportive of the purpose,” Lucey said. “We’re finding more and more companies realize that we need to do something about the fact that we have so many incarcerated people here in the U.S. and that we have a lack of knowledgeable workers.”
Women who go through the program and have completed their sentences are continuing to work for Televerde and are becoming mentors through their sister foundation, Arouet.
Stine is a mentor through Arouet. She’s able to connect with incarcerated women in Perryville to help them realize their potential.
“Being able to influence, [to be a guide] and maybe just being somebody that tells really good jokes to give [Perryville women] a laugh when they really need it, it’s a pretty cool thing” Stine said.
Stine has seen women leave prison, put their effort toward graduating high school and/or college and “navigate through the same potholes” that she fell in.
“Candidly speaking, I don’t think that there’s any other businesses that can hire more loyal, more knowledgeable, more dedicated people with the right training. Period,” Stine said.
Televerde is a unique program, compared to other Second Chance programs in the state and around the country.
“I think that [politicians] need to think outside of the box,” Stine said.
While Gov. Doug Ducey has been in office less than six years, their program has thrived without direct contact with him or the Legislature.
“As much as I’d love to have a conversation with Governor Ducey, we haven’t really been on his radar because we’ve been doing this for so long,” Lucey said.
Lucey hopes to work with Ducey in the future in ensuring the security of the Televerde program in Arizona correctional facilities. Lucey hopes to expand the program to other states where they have a high population of incarcerated women.
“If we can get to a point where people look forward and not backward, and give people the benefit of the doubt — it’s amazing what we can do with 2.4 million incarcerated people,” Lucey said.
The program answers many of the proposals Ducey is suggesting to aid in criminal justice reform.
In this year’s State of the State Address, Ducey said that he would close the Florence Prison Complex, fix broken locks at other correctional facilities and rename the Department of Corrections to the “Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry” and double down on second-chance programs, “all in the name of public safety.”
The program is only in women’s prisons right now, but the company’s top leadership is not opposed to including men’s correctional facilities.
“I don’t think that we should pigeonhole and think that the only things that can be offered to men are carpentry and what-not,” Stine said. “Any human being, incarcerated or otherwise, could benefit by being employed by a company like Televerde.”
The program is not looking to make any big changes to its already successful program.
“We started Televerde in the world of teaching people how to sell. Then last year, we expanded that into teaching people how to gain other skills that companies need, such as marketing, content development and writing,” Lucey said.
Participants in the program believe, too, that the program itself doesn’t need to change – the world around them has to change.
“I think we need to invest more into the actual rehabilitation of people, of humans,” Ochoa said.
Ochoa’s release is scheduled for May. She will continue in her same position with Televerde and then will work with the company for another year to reassess her status within the company.
Correction: This story erroneously reported that Televerde began its relationship with the Arizona Department of Corrections 2001, when it fact, the year was 1995.