Brian Hamilton, a CEO in sport coat and natty slacks, strides into the harsh gleam of industrial lighting to give his two-hour crash course on starting your own business.
His pupils: murderers, robbers, rapists, drug dealers and other aspiring entrepreneurs residing at the Eastern Correctional Institution in Maury, a medium-security facility about 80 miles east of Raleigh. As he sets up, 65 convicts dressed in their prison-issued uniforms wait politely in a room built like an armored truck.
Hamilton, 46, got his start running his own landscaping business and today leads Sageworks, a financial data analysis firm in Raleigh. Over the years, he has taught this class more than a hundred times at chambers of commerce and small business centers.
During the past two years, however, this evangelist for entrepreneurship has focused on prisons. He dispenses business tips to men and women who would consider themselves lucky to get a job interview, let alone run a company.
He has now taught 30 classes at 15 prisons in the state, and as word of his popular course spreads, Hamilton is invited to teach in prison once a month. His belief in business ownership as a form of personal freedom resonates as deeply with middle managers trapped in desk jobs as it does with convicts trapped behind razor wire.