Wayne Williams isn’t a man who’s going to shy away from his past. He knows he made poor decisions when he was younger, and his record will forever reflect this as well as the 13 ½ years he spent paying for his mistakes in prison.
But, from the day of his release back in the summer of 2019, Wayne said he’s refused to let that past define who he is today, nor is he willing to let it limit his opportunities for a brighter future.
“I had it in me that I didn’t want to be a statistic,” Wayne said. “I wanted to break the chains and change my future. You can still go to school [following incarceration], you can still get an education, and I wanted to set an example for my son and for others. I have to live the change. I can’t talk about something that I’m not doing myself.”
Wayne began this transformation while he was still imprisoned. He earned his high school diploma and began studying business prior to his release.
Once out, it took him just a couple of months to find a job as a delivery driver for a furniture company. But, once he was given the chance to prove himself, he quickly rose through the ranks to account manager.
With a desire to continue to move up within the company while also learning the ins and outs of running his own business, Wayne decided to further his education by enrolling in the Business Office Administration Program at Florida Career College (FCC) in Tampa.
Now a recent graduate of the program, Wayne is looking forward to starting his new position as sales manager at his current place of employment. He also has plans in the works to start a series of new businesses ventures that will offer both employment and hope to people like him – former prisoners looking for work, training and mentorship that’ll offer them a second chance at life.
“I heard of a lot of people getting out of jail and getting out of prison thinking they couldn’t get a job because they were locked up,” Wayne said. “That’s wrong. That’s incorrect. With that right mindset and a desire to work, you can find a job.”
Surrounding Himself with Support
Despite having already taken some business classes as an adult while earning his high school diploma, Wayne admits to being nervous during his first few days as a Business Office Administration student at FCC in Tampa.
“I didn’t know what the outcome would be with going to college,” he said. “It did start off kind of shaky and it was kind of hard, but [the faculty members] work with you, they help you, and they care. Even with a lot going on, they still checked up on me and worked with me and showed me they really wanted me to graduate.”
Being naturally outgoing, positive and open-minded, it didn’t take long for Wayne to fit in with the classroom environment. He said it became easy to commit to his classroom training and homework because the FCC faculty – including his main BOA instructor Sophia Butler – continually showed a personal investment in his future.
“When you have people who show they care and care about your education … you’re going to be serious about your education,” he said. “But, it didn’t just feel like an education thing. They treated you more like family.”
“Wayne’s experiences have only served to propel him to a brighter future,” said Sophia Butler. “It has been an honor and privilege to share in this leg of his journey. As a result of taking ownership of his education and life, I have no doubt Wayne will continue to make meaningful contributions wherever his path may lead.”
Not only was the school behind him as he took classes, but his employers also showed incredible support during the process. They let him work around his classroom hours, provided him with an externship opportunity, and then offered Wayne a promotion to sales manager following graduation.
“With that, I have to say I had a lot of people in my corner to get me to where I am today, as well as where I’m going to be in the future,” he said.
Becoming a Business Leader, Personal Mentor
When he looks back at all the support he’s gotten as he’s reentered the workforce and gone back to school, Wayne remains troubled by those in similar situations who don’t have the knowledge, ethic or confidence to make similar strides following their time in prison.
That’s why as he looks to open new businesses of his own – currently, he has preliminary plans to start a landscape company, a tow-truck company and open a cigar shop – his goal is to employ former prisoners in need of mentorship.
“I guess it’s just that urge and energy in me,” Wayne said. “I’ve heard so much about people who go out and they said they couldn’t find a job. I want to help people break that chain. Just because you got locked up and was away for a time doesn’t mean you can’t get out and do right. Us being human beings, we can do anything we put our minds to.”
Statistics appear to support Wayne’s general assessment of ex-prisoners in the labor market. According to one 2018 study by Brookings, the median earnings of former prisoners during their first full year after release is $10,090, with only about 55 percent of them reporting any income during that time.
Wayne wants to improve these statistics one person at a time. His goal is to lead by example.
“It’s all about putting it in their mind-frame that you can do it,” Wayne said. “It takes an individual who’s been through what they’ve been through to understand that. If it’s me, I want to sit down and have a conversation about, ‘How did you do that?’”
In the meantime, Wayne said he’s been staying in touch with FCC, offering to speak with classes and participate in business events in order to tell his story and possibly inspire others. It’s the least he can do, he says, for everything he’s gotten from the instructors and faculty at the school.
“Basically, I’ve gotta give it to the whole school – not just one person, but the whole school,” he said. “I tip my hat and everything to FCC.”