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How entrepreneurship is helping former inmates move forward

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Posted at 9:55 AM, Jun 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-10 12:02:45-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — On a typical day, Jackie and Ernest Williams get up and start preparing for wherever their food truck "Williams Soul Food" is set to serve people throughout Colorado Springs.

For Ernest, cooking some of his favorite Lousiana dishes, whether it be fried catfish or fries with special seasoning, there's no place he'd rather be.

"I love cooking, I get up in the middle of the night and start cooking," Williams said, "my wife be like man you cooking already? and I be like yeah"

Williams and his wife started a catering business about three years ago in Colorado Springs. They moved from Louisiana to Colorado for family, when they realized some of their favorite dishes weren't as easy to find.

"It's like your grandmother's cooking, your mother, your big mama, it's comfort food," Jackie Williams said.

Ernest started working as a chef at Chili's in Colorado Springs, "they knew I was going to be different," he said with a laugh. He started cooking up some of his favorite dishes, like boudin.

Before he and his wife knew it- they were preparing food for their catering company. In 2020, they expanded the business to a food truck.

The money to expand in part came from a program with the state known as "Transforming Safety". The program focuses on efforts in north Aurora and southeast Colorado Springs to reduce crime and recidivism, or the number of people returning behind bars.

One aspect of the program involves small business loans, helping people involved in the justice system become entrepreneurs, Ernest was previously incarcerated.

"I was incarcerated and I overcame those dramas in my life," Ernest Williams said, he credits his faith and the community support with helping him move forward. "I got a wonderful company, I got a wonderful family, I got a wonderful community."

His wife Jackie says the assistance and process to secure the funding was a big help.

"I am overwhelmed mostly, my coming to Colorado I didn't expect any of this," Jackie said.

A recent report from the state Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) shows the loan process has slowed since the program started distributing funds in 2018. Part of the reason is the amount of training and resources it takes to secure funding. With the economy experiencing a downturn, it also became difficult for startup businesses to receive loans.

The state does anticipate an uptick as the economy recovers.

As for the Williams, they hope to eventually expand the business into a brick and mortar location. They say giving people another chance, and the opportunity to own their own business is a big part of moving forward.

Ernest says people should look for their talents and pursue those to continue on a new path, "your craft, your gift be 100 in it," Ernest said.

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