“There’s nothing wrong with nice clothing and nice cars and nice food and nice vacations. They’re all fun. But ultimately what I’ve discovered is that a good night’s sleep is far more important, and a good night’s sleep requires a clear conscience and a clear state of mind.
“At my stage of life, that’s more important than anything.”
Back in the early nineties, Bronson was a partner at Stratton Oakmont, the infamous brokerage house portrayed in Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street.
Today, not coincidentally, he is one of 70 million US citizens with a criminal record, and he’s working obsessively to improve the career prospects of his fellow ex-offenders — or as he puts it, his brothers and sisters.
Whether it’s down to exclusionary hiring policies, a lack of support or personal prejudice, many ex-offenders face an exceptional challenge in finding work after their release. Bronson says this perpetuates a cycle of recidivism and rearrest.
His solution to the problem is 70 Million Jobs, a first-of-its-kind, for-profit recruitment platform for people with criminal records.
“The applicants we work with generally have gone through incredible frustration to try to put the past behind them and lead a productive, legitimate life,” he explains.
“It isn’t easy showing up for an interview for a job that pays minimum wage where there’s a good shot you won’t even get that job. It’s hard not to be negative.
“We go out of our way to try to simplify the process, and we try to do it in a compassionate, loving kinda fashion. All of us have had to ask for forgiveness at some point in our life, all of us have made mistakes, all of us deserve a second chance. We really try very hard not to judge the people we’re working with, and I for one personally don’t feel I am one to judge anybody for what they may have done.
“So that informs everything we do, all our conversations, all our development work, all our software, all our everything. We wanna try to create an environment where folks have one less door slammed in their face.”
You can see Bronson and his team’s compassion in their website and its features — from the offer of support with putting together a resume to the option to refer a friend or family member. For the website’s users, it must seem like an oasis of acceptance and opportunity.
Also featured on the 70 Million Jobs website is a selection of logos from some of the world’s biggest brands — the likes of Coca-Cola, Facebook, Starbucks and Uber. Bronson explains that these companies are all signed up to the Fair Chance Business Pledge — an initiative created during the latter years of Barack Obama’s presidency to encourage major employers to hire people with criminal records.
“Some companies, as well as having HR needs, are eager to assert their leadership as being second chance friendly, and want to set an example by being good corporate citizens,” he says.
“We are in a climate of historic low unemployment, so companies clearly have to do something to address their dire HR needs. Theoretically, some of them would prefer not to hire from this population, but they just have to.
“Having said all that, some of the tech firms could definitely do more. I believe that it’s our role to hold their feet to the fire to fulfil their pledge. Despite the fact that many of their jobs are highly technical in nature, they still have the opportunity to hire plenty of folks in other positions. It always works to get them to sign on.”
The crux of 70 Million Jobs’ proposition to corporate clients is that people with records can work just as well as people who don’t, and in some cases better. It’s hard to imagine a more compelling proof-of-concept than Bronson himself. Articulate, expressive and deeply thoughtful, he talks passionately about the value ex-offenders can bring to a business.
“Studies have recently come out that suggest that those folks who have a record and hired by a company often emerge as that company’s very best employees,” he says.
“Not only do they perform better than their counterparts without a record, but their retention is actually longer. In the HR world, that’s where the game is won and lost.
“We hear from employers that having these folks in their workforce often adds powerfully to overall morale at the company, because once they get to know and get friendly with those hirees who have a record, they recognise that they’re human beings, and they feel very proud of their company for taking a chance and hiring them.”
Dissolving prejudices, bringing families together, and rehumanising people with criminal records — it’s all a far cry from Bronson’s early years in finance. Whilst he demonstrates a continued passion for business and entrepreneurship, it’s in the pursuit of humanitarian aims that he now finds his deepest gratification.
“I discovered my calling late in life, and that is to help my brothers and sisters who’ve been released from jail or prison to find a job so that they can avoid getting rearrested and going back to prison,” he says.
“I’ve seen first-hand that redemptive value of employment. I’ve seen husbands and wives reunited, and I have seen their children hugging both parents simultaneously in a desperate attempt to keep them connected. This only has come as these folks have accepted their responsibilities as husband, wife and parent.
“For me to be in some small way a part of this is a powerful motivator, an honour and a privilege.”