Having served as the executive director of the organization he founded in 1993, Silverman is now looking to parlay his experiences with drug and alcohol dependency, as well as his track record working with the homeless, unemployed, underemployed and what he characterized as the most difficult sector of the population to serve, into an endeavor he said has the potential to affect systemic change in the nation’s criminal justice system.
A native San Diegan and father of two daughters, Silverman and his wife, Michelle, an agent with Prudential in La Jolla, have called the La Jolla home for 25 years. Born into a family retail clothing business, Silverman quickly learned the value of work. As a salesman in his parent’s clothing stores on Girard Avenue, he harnessed many of the skills he would later pass on to others to help them rebuild their splintered lives.
Armed with a powerful vision, a wealth of experience and a budget of zero, Silverman said he is starting all over again on a grassroots level with his new business, With Tough Love. Among his goals he plans to address issues related to prison realignment and lowering the rates of recidivism for criminals, which, according to a recent report by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, currently stands at 65 percent in the state.
We sat down with Silverman recently for a question-and-answer session.
La Jolla Village News: What made you want to work with criminals and prison realignment?
Scott Silverman: If we put someone away in an institution, they don’t come out smarter and ready to be a community contributor. Instead, they come out with a doctorate degree in criminology. They’re frustrated, angry and ready to attack because they’ve been trained by people who live in cages. My point is that there has been no data that shows that prison works. We don’t need science to figure it out. Around 95 percent of those who enter the prison system get out. Of those, almost eight out of 10 go back. Could you imagine any other business that has such a high failure rate? It’s appalling. And for those who say they don’t want to pay to help them, you’re paying to keep them away.
LJVN: How can you help the situation?
SS: It costs us $65,000 a year to keep someone in state prison. If someone stays out of prison, how much do we save? I’ve developed a lot of relationships over the years in the criminal justice system. I can speak the language of felon, court, probation, parole and law enforcement.
The science shows that if you can help somebody build their self-esteem and self worth, find a place to live, get into the workforce, have access to healthcare and all of the wrap-around services such as drug treatment, mental health support and advanced education, a lot of problems will be solved.
LJVN: Where did you get the idea for Second Chance?
SS: After about six months of volunteering at St. Vincent de Paul through the Congregation Beth Israel Hunger Project, I got motivated to start talking more in depth with some of the clients. I would ask them why they weren’t working and they would reply that no one would hire them because of their appearance. I didn’t know if that was an excuse or a barrier. I began coaching one individual on what to say to a prospective employer and I helped him improve his image and interview skills. After a few months, he came back to tell me that he got hired.
When I asked him how he did it, he responded that he applied what I had taught him. He then spoke to a few others about his experience and afterward attendance on an average Sunday starting increasing. So I decided to scale this thing up and I went to all of the service providers in town and asked them to partner with me. I asked them to send me their most difficult-to-place clients and I would help them find jobs, get off of needing services, reconnect them with their families and living on their own.
LJVN: What motivated you to start Second Chance?
SS: I saw how the system worked and realized that it wasn’t working at all. I was frustrated at the fact that so many people were stuck in what I call the “social-service loop.” The same people would keep coming back for services week after week. The providers were paid based on the number of people they served. The more they served, the more they got paid. If they served less, they ran the risk of not getting their funding renewed.
I was later told that if my approach proved to be successful, the service providers would run out of clients and have no one to provide services to. It didn’t make sense to me. There seemed to be incentives to keep people down rather than empower them to get up.
LJVN: Why did you decide to leave the nonprofit world?
SS: I left because I was at a point where I felt that I couldn’t really take what I had learned to another level. Funding was getting tough and there were restrictions on the mission and the vision. I felt like we could be affecting more people, but I couldn’t get the agency to move at a pace that to me was effective enough. Unemployment was skyrocketing, the prisons were overcrowding, so I decided to figure out a way to move my institutional knowledge to a broader base. It was a risky move, but the way I’m being received right now is really exciting.
LJVN: Do you miss working for the organization you founded?
SS: I’ve taken some time to decompress after working for the past 18 years at a feverish pace in the nonprofit world. I get up at 6:15 a.m. rather than 5:30 a.m. now. I made a big paradigm shift by not having to report to a board of directors. I no longer have to raise money for an organization, which was very time consuming. I can navigate in almost any area with no boundaries on what I can do. Before I was really contained to San Diego, but now I travel around the country talking with different organizations about many topics.
For more information about Scott Silverman, visit www.withtoughlove.com.