One Man’s Prison is Another Man’s Escape

I recently came across an article on the website, Business of Home — “Inside a Nashville prison, a hardwood flooring factory thrives” — about a gentleman named Don Finkell, CEO of American OEM Wood Floors. In 1996, Finkell began a program to employ prison inmates to make his flooring products. That article reminded me of two things.

First, it reminded me of one of my earlier posts, in which I’d mentioned a local company, Fresh Start Pallet Products, with which I’m working to design furniture and lighting. Like Finkell’s program, Fresh Start works to restore dignity, senses of self-worth, and independence to recovering addicts, former prison inmates, and the others in need of fresh starts it employs.

Second, the article reminded me of a particular piece of wisdom that says the priorities of the best businesses are people, process, product — in that specific order. Recalling that piece of wisdom compelled me to read the Business of Home article, in the context of people, process, and product. This is what I found:

  • People. “Finkell … [had] an opportunity to hire a number of hardworking men—inmates at a South Carolina prison … A workforce guaranteed to stay at the plant for several years could be taught complex skills, like crafting hand-scraped wood, which takes longer to master than the automated process used to make engineered hardwood … paying inmates to learn a trade was a viable option.”
  • Process. “Finkell [opened] a small plant within the grounds of the prison … More than 20 years later, Finkell has established six prison plants … [he] has 200 employees—and an additional 1,000 approved men on a waiting list … The men working in his factory earn an hourly fee that’s comparable to what civilians doing similar work in the area are paid … and earn a bonus based on productivity.”
  • Product. “Finkell’s wife [Emily Morrow, owner of Emily Morrow Home] … has become his best client. ‘This model that Don has created allows for so much more flexibility in the design process. Because this is a smaller operation and it’s not all automated, it allows me to create styles that are special and aren’t offered at the big companies.'”

So What?

That question is as logical as it is understandable. One guy did one thing. Big deal. Did it make a difference? Does it make a continuing difference? The answers to those questions depend on whether you believe in another piece of wisdom: You become what you count. Here’s what Don Finkell counts:

  • “The National Institute of Justice estimates that 68 percent of released prisoners are arrested again within three years. Finkell says that the recidivism rate for men in his plant hovers around just 7 percent.”
  • “A civilian plant in Indiana that Finkell owns is currently being run by a man who worked at a prison plant. ‘You could just tell he was a natural born leader and a hard worker. We’ve been pretty successful in helping these guys even after they get out.’”

Don Finkell counts people first. And he understands that one man’s prison is another man’s escape.

What do you count? Your answer will make all the difference.

Image by Tumisu, courtesy of

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *