Episode 116

Jason Wang ·  Breaking the Cycle of Recidivism With FreeWorld

“I remember feeling that I was doing a hell of a lot better running the streets as a gang member than I am as a well-educated adult that happens to have a criminal history. Because of that adversity, I had to be really innovative with the way that I supported my family, and one of them was through entrepreneurship.”

At the age of 15, Jason Wang was given a 12-year sentence at a maximum security prison in Texas. Upon release he earned two master’s degrees and was still unable to find a job due to his criminal history. Jason decided to become an agent for change. He started FreeWorld. FreeWorld empowers people who have been in prison with educational support and technical skills to enter into high wage, high demand careers so they can live fulfilling lives, prison free. FreeWorld aims to break the cycle of recidivism and generational poverty by demonstrating the potential of reentering citizens creating meaningful career pathways and providing critical support services for the individuals and their families to overcome significant barriers. Impact areas: justice reform, economic empowerment, workforce development, education, racial justice, economic development and poverty alleviation.


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Podcast Transcript

Jason Wang

Hey guys, welcome to the Asian Hustle Network Podcast! My name is Bryan and my name is Maggie, and we interview Asian entrepreneurs around the world to amplify their voices and empower Asians to pursue their dreams and goals. We believe that each person has a message and a unique story from their entrepreneurial journey that they can share with all of us.

[00:00:24] Maggie Chui: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Asian Hustle Network Podcast! Today we have a very special guest with us. His name is Jason Wang at the age of 15, Jason Wang was given a 12-year sentence at a maximum-security prison in Texas. Upon release, he earned two master’s degrees and was still unable to find a job due to his criminal history. FreeWorld decided to become an agent for change. He started FreeWorld. FreeWorld empowers people who have been in prison with educational support and technical skills to enter into high-wage, high-demand careers so they can live fulfilling lives. FreeWorld aims to break the cycle of recidivism and general poverty by demonstrating the potential of the entering citizens, creating meaningful career pathways, and providing critical support services for the individuals and their families to overcome significant barriers, impact areas are justice reform, economic empowerment, workforce development, education, racial justice, economic development, and poverty alleviation. Jason, welcome to the show. 

Thank you so much for having me. And I’m sure that is a mouthful.

It speaks volumes. How much great work you are doing for the people. For all of our listeners who don’t know Jason, he was featured in our Asian Hustle Network book called Uplifted, Journeys of Abundance, Community, and Identity. His story is so moving. I recommend all of our listeners to read Jason’s story if you want to learn and hear about his full journey. 

So Jason, tell us how far you have come since the last time that we’ve talked to you. I know the last time, Geena interviewed you for our book, and I know that FreeWorld has grown so much. I want to know about all of the success that, that you’ve experienced since the last time that we’ve talked to you.

[00:02:13] Jason Wang: Yeah. There’s a lot to be grateful for this year. We’ve now oversubscribed on our fundraising goals. So we had an initial goal— I’m going to half million. We ended up bringing 2.3 million, and we have quite a few additional commitments coming in this year. It’s positioning as well for growth. We’ve doubled our team size. And so this was critical for our growth because we’ve been operating so lean. We recently won $50,000 from the Dallas Foundation and the Pegasus prize. And so we’ve gotten a ton of different PR opportunities through the Dallas Morning News. KERA, CBS NBC, and yeah, we’re just prepping for this upcoming year.

[00:02:49] Maggie Chui: That is amazing. I’m so glad to hear that you oversubscribed. Talk to us about that fundraising round and there’s just like the experience of it. Was it what was going through your mind at that time? Was it hard for you? What was going through your mind? Did you have some sort of criteria you wanted to set forth when you were bringing on these investors and what exactly were you looking for in these investors?

[00:03:11] Jason Wang: Yeah. So I’ll be completely honest with you. This year was the first time. Was raising money from institutional investors. Up until October of this year, we had only raised 400,000 and it was a very real chance that we wouldn’t be able to hit our fundraising goal. Over the past three months, we just got fortunate.

We were participating in several different accelerator programs like fast-forward stand together, and Schmidt futures. And the great thing about these programs is they positioned us well for success. So fast forward, as an example, we went through the accelerated program. We ended up having eight-pitch events. And from that point forward, people suddenly knew about FreeWorld and wanted to support it. And so we were able to raise essentially $2 million just within the past three months. 

[00:03:53] Maggie Chui: That is amazing. I’m so glad to hear of all the success. It’s crazy how much you have grown and to hear about the journey that you have gone through, since the time that you were in prison and just going through that experience and knowing that you were meant to have a more successful life, a larger life than this, I think that just hearing your story is just so inspirational. And I think it could set as inspiration to a lot of other younger folks as well. Talk to us. 

I don’t want to give away too much about, some of the story because I want our listeners to read it themselves as well, but, tell me about just how you have grown as a person from the time that you were a child to now, it must be so crazy to think back and think wow, so much has changed in such a short amount of time, and I’m sure it doesn’t feel like a short amount of time. I’m sure that it feels as if a lot has changed for you. Just tell me how you’ve changed, emotionally, and mentally as a person for yourself. 

[00:04:56] Jason Wang: Yeah. I think that my childhood was defined by poverty, abuse, and trauma. And so growing up, I just felt alone in the world. I had to deal with racism. I had a father who was extraordinarily violent.

And, at the age of 13, I ended up joining a gang because they represented the family that didn’t have at home. And then I went through the prison system and in the prison system emotionally, it felt like I was dirt. Like I was a modern-day leper in society. I’d never seen such a large population of people being treated so poorly. And for thousands of kids to feel like they had no future for themselves, that was a very low point in my life. After I was released, I ended up getting a full-ride scholarship and getting a double master’s. And one of the things I learned from that experience is that you can push hard and you can work your butt off, but at the end of the day, Even with two master’s degrees, people saw me as the worst thing I’d ever done rather than the person that I was.

It was heartbreaking. I remember feeling that I was doing a hell of a lot better running the streets as a gang member than I am as a well-educated adult that happens to have a criminal history. So there are a lot of learning lessons that came with that, but because of that adversary, I had to be innovative with the way that I supported my family.

And one of them was through entrepreneurship. I ended up starting four businesses, many of them failed, but luckily for FreeWorld ended up doing well. The last thing that I’ll say is that, over the past two years, especially going through the pandemic, I’ve personally grown quite a bit during the pandemic.

I was suicidal. I was going through depression. I had lost some close friends in my life. And I started to question who I was and what was meaningful for me in my life. And so while the pandemic sucked, it offered a lot of introspective thinking and I’m grateful for the experience.

[00:06:48] Maggie Chui: I’m so glad that you mentioned that, I think life comes with a lot of different challenges and, it’s obvious that, you went through a lot of challenges, and as an entrepreneur, we go through those ups and downs and I’m so glad that you were very transparent about starting a lot of businesses, a lot of them have failed and I think a lot of us don’t talk about those failures. If we don’t talk about those hardships, we don’t talk about those challenges because especially in the Asian community, we only like to talk about our successes and what has become successful or what has turned out successful.

We never talk about anything that makes us lose face. And I think the Asian thing to be is all about, saving face and talking about everything that became successful. What do you think made FreeWorld so successful? And I remember in your story, you mentioned that this is something that spoke to you.

This is exactly the thing that you wanted to do because it was meaningful to you, and I think that’s also why you put so much effort and heart into building this company. But there is a bigger meaning behind it. And I want to know what do you think personally made FreeWorld so successful?

[00:07:58] Jason Wang: I think that number one, you have to have a supportive group of people around you. And for FreeWorld, it was our board of directors. So Jason Green, Andy Bromberg, and Matt Machinery were critical not only to starting FreeWorld but also to navigating through life’s challenges, especially when starting up a business.

And so Matt Mo Sherry is a previous entrepreneur investor, filmmaker, and CEO coach. And he guided me in terms of being able to avoid the potholes on the road. We couldn’t be where we are without him. And so it’s having that good support system around you. The second thing is creating a service that delights our customers.

When we start building up the FreeWorld program, number one, we want to be able to scale to be self-sustaining. But most of all, we want to be so efficiently effective in our students’ lives, that they felt comfortable trusting us with anything that might be going on. And so I took a close look at my re-entry journey and the reentry journeys of the majority of our employees and the people that we served because most of the people that we hire have history.

And it’s that attention to detail looking at every pain point through the re-entry process that allowed us to create a service set that people seem to like. We try to do our best to solve all the major roadblocks that people face once they get released. And we do it in a way that’s fast, it’s efficient, and produces great outcomes.

And ultimately the end day for any business, the success of the business will be based on, are you able to execute? 

[00:09:32] Maggie Chui: I agree. And it matters what, your clients and your customers say about, the surface that you’re putting out to and you are giving such, amazing resources and support to people who have been in prison.

And I’m very curious to know. What kind of stories have you heard? I’m sure there have been a lot of people who came back to you and stuff like you’ve literally changed my life, Jason, and you’ve turned my life around and I couldn’t thank you enough. I would like to know some of those stories that you’ve heard from those instances, and what was one that has the most impact on you and the one that just made you think back and say, this is why I do what I do, and I’m so proud to be in this position right now because you’re literally changing lives. Can you tell us an example of one of those stories? 

[00:10:18] Jason Wang: Oh man, I have so many stories. I bet. Like one that immediately comes to mind is this individual who applied for a program. He had spent about 30 years in prison.

He had been released for about a year. And at this point, he was going through halfway houses. He was just trying to get back on his feet. He had to be on parole after he was released. He had to go to all these groups and he was 68 years old at the time that he applied to FreeWorld and for a 60-year-old person getting out of the prison system with a criminal record. He had no idea what he could do in life, because first of all, who wants to hire a 68-year-old? Second, it doesn’t help that he has a criminal record. And so he was telling me about a time when he was sitting on top of a bridge and he wanted to kill himself.

And fortunately, he made the choice to just live for another day. That’s when somebody in his halfway house told them about our program, applied for it within 40 days, he ended up getting his license, and now he’s doing so incredibly well. Like he’s got his own apartment. He’s got his own car. He’s now reunited with his family. And he has hope for his future. Like he doesn’t have to be homeless on the streets anymore. And that’s a story that is actually quite common among the over a thousand people who applied for a program, most come from situations that are so incredibly desperate and traumatic.

And it’s incredible to see how something as simple as a living wage job can change somebody’s trajectory in life. And so I’m proud of Michael (that’s his name.) And I have plenty of other stories to share with you as well. If you’re interested. 

[00:11:54] Maggie Chui: Yes. I would love to hear them. 

[00:11:56] Jason Wang: The main thing is that nobody’s expecting a hand. They just want a pathway forward and that’s it. People are willing to do the work. It’s just that it is so miserable to go through life being rejected all the time.

I faced that in my own life with two masters. I imagine somebody who has spent 30 years in prison has gotten out and they don’t have any education, no work experience. They’re up to their eyeballs in debt. And they have no clear pathway toward a job that will pay enough to take care of the bills.

That’s the reality that the vast majority of people that go through our program go through. Another example is this individual in San Francisco. He had spent 10 years in prison and he had gone in and out of the system. His father was in prison. He went to prison, it ran through his entire family— even his brothers have gone to prison as well. So he’s in San Francisco and he’s homeless on the streets and he’s relapsed into meth and he’s just down dumps. And once again, like many other people in our program, they hear about it from another. He decides to apply once again, in about 60 days, he ends up getting his license and he’s a matter of fact on our video.

And he talks about how in 2015, his tax return or his taxable income was $10,000 the next year. And it was $170,000. It was just a life-changing moment for him. He bought a brand new house when he came down to that filming of it, he came and he drove down in a Mercedes today.

He’s no longer in the trucking industry because he’s built a life for himself and he has two businesses now. So now not only does he have like a Terminator, pest control business, but he’s also real estate. And so one of the things that we talked about at FreeWorld is that the trucking industry is only a stepping stone.

We’re doing this because for a relatively small amount of money, we can very quickly get you into a high-paying career. But once you get into that career and you’re able to provide for your family and get some stability in your life, go chase what you love in life. I think that so many people work every single day just to pay the bills and very few people have found that job or career where they can live out their dish in life. And for this individual, he’s now living out his gift and this is a beautiful story. 

[00:14:10] Maggie Chui: That’s amazing. That is incredibly beautiful. And it just goes to show the type of person that you are to Jason, because, as a founder, I’m sure there are a lot of founders who would want their employees to stay with them forever.

To run a successful company, you have to show care and love for your employees, when you treat your employees, you actually want the best for them. And if you want the best for them, and understand that they may leave at a certain point, right?

Because yes, it is a stepping stone. It is a tool that you can use to gather as many skills or resources as you possibly can, and possibly, go to the next stage in your life, and that’s exactly what you’re doing for these people. And it’s just so amazing that you’re able to, provide this resource and life for these people.

[00:14:55] Jason Wang: One of the things that’s more of a systemic issue is that everybody talks about how companies aren’t willing to hire people with criminal histories. And yes, the criminal record is a major road. But it’s also like a self-fulfilling cycle because if somebody with a criminal history can’t get a job in the first place, they’ll never get the experience that they need to be successful in that career even if companies do choose to lower their standards on hiring people from all records. 

My personal belief is that when somebody goes to prison, Pays our debt to society, and serves their time during that time, they should be set up to do well once they get released because they were spending 10 years in prison and it’s a corrupt environment that is extraordinarily violent.

Then what do you expect to do once they get released? You’ve now spent 10 years getting used to being in the jungle. And now we’re asking you to go out into society and be a positive contributing member of society without any of the skillsets, without any of the know-how, without any of the support, the system that we have today is literally trapping people into generational cycles of poverty.

 And I hope that FreeWorld can become the gold standard for how we actually do reentry in America. 

[00:16:07] Maggie Chui: Absolutely. I believe that you have to give these people a chance, otherwise, they won’t be able to improve, or they won’t be able to build the skills that they need to get a real job.

And you’re giving them a second chance. And for those of you who don’t see, Jason has this background that says real second chances started here. And that says exactly what you’re doing. And I love that so much. I also get monthly updates on how FreeWorld is doing. And I think the most recent update that I received was, FreeWorld just passed a thousand applicants and, this happened sooner than you had projected. And that’s such an amazing accomplishment. Can we talk about that? Also, just like the nature of being so transparent with your audience. Why do you think it’s so important to be so transparent about just the progress that you’re seeing with FreeWorld?

I appreciate you being so authentic and transparent with your community, just like with the success and progress that you’ve built. 

[00:17:06] Jason Wang: I truly believe that as an organization, we should be super transparent with not only our successes but also our failures. One of the things that I’ve noticed is that if you’re going through a hard time, people in the business community will rally around you to help you as long as your mission is aligned, and is producing results in the world. People want to surround themselves with successful people. And every business is going to have some sort of challenge that they go through, even if they’re the most successful business in the world. The other thing that I’ve noticed in the nonprofit industry is that.

A lot of organizations, because we’re so dependent on philanthropy, a lot of organizations have to play up their success to keep the doors open. And we’re in a fortunate position where we now have quite a bit of support. We’ve had support from the very beginning. And so we’ve never had to exaggerate our numbers and we are the most successful organization out there, but we’re also very young. We’ve been in operation for three years, but we just incorporated last year, out of the three years that we’ve been in operation, we only hired a team last year. And so things are starting to ramp up.

And one of the things that we noticed in expanding our program was that we had our program in one little city in California for the first two years. And then in our third year, we expanded out to Texas and that’s where the vast majority of all of our applications come in. One of the interesting things, when we go through the data, it’s understanding the demographics and the challenges that people face when they apply to pre-World. Just in our Dallas market alone, 75% of the people who apply to our program are African-American. And that shocked me. I had always known that in America, one in three black men have a criminal record and that African-Americans by large are disproportionately the biggest part of the criminal justice system.

And it just lit a fire in me because when you look at the criminal justice system and its history, you start to realize why people who have gone through the system are facing the challenges that they’re facing today and why the system continues to be broken. There is a vested interest in keeping the status quo and that’s what we’re fighting against.

But when you take a look at that problem, You’re not looking to solve it over the next 10 years. You have the building, the capacity, the infrastructure, and the strategy to solve this problem over the next 100 years. And that’s what we focused on it for your world. It’s not a short-term program. It’s here for the long haul. 

[00:19:32] Maggie Chui: I’m so glad that you brought that up. I think there are a lot of things wrong with the system that we have right now. I agree with you. It’s not a short-term journey that’s going to fix itself overnight. And what you’re doing is, definitely going to be the stepping stone for us to solve these issues.

But it’s going to take a long time. 

[00:19:51] Jason Wang: Yeah. The criminal justice industry is an industry where we spend 180 billion dollars a year. There are a lot of people making money off of the misery. And this has nothing to do with saying oh, we shouldn’t have prisons and we shouldn’t have all this other stuff.

I am all for accountability. But once again, When the court system or the legal system says, Hey, you committed a crime. We found evidence that you committed this crime. And so for the punishment of this alleged crime, you have to serve, I don’t know, 10 years in prison. Why is it that people go through the prison system served those 10 years, which was mandated by the court, but for the rest of their lives and their kids’ lives, they will forever be punished by the system?

At what point does the individual truly get a legitimate second chance? Because if we want to continue supervising or incarcerating people through generations, then we’re going to have the system that we have today where 75% of people who go to prison will end up back in prison within five years.

Right? And 70% of kids who have a parent who’s incarcerated will end up in the system themselves. Do we want to spend our tax dollars on something that is proven to not work? There has to be a better way. And so FreeWorld is a very simple solution to a very big problem, but it’s not enough. And our strategy is to build the leverage and scale that we need to start effecting promote justice reform on a wider level.

I thought something that was interesting is during the pandemic, a lot of people got to see the murder of George Floyd, that nine-minute video that just rocked so many people. And over the past two years, people have started to make their voices heard. That being said, it took a worldwide protest to create any type of law enforcement accountability when Derek Shogun was arrested and was tried and convicted of murdering George Floyd. That was one of the few times in America’s history where a law enforcement official was held accountable. Now, what I fear is that over time, the passion and fervor for racial justice will begin to die down. And it was great to see all of these corporations and all these people speaking out against racial injustice. But where are those investments now? They raised $50 billion for racial equity. But have dispersed almost nothing. And so outside of FreeWorld, if we look at society from a high-level perspective and look at changes that we need in a law enforcement system, we can’t be passionate at the moment and then forget later, because this stuff is happening daily. 

[00:22:42] Maggie Chui: Absolutely. I think just the world that we live in right now with all the social media that’s happening, unfortunately, that’s how it is. There’s a lot of hype that goes on with all of the current events and current news, and then let’s say like a month passes by, two months passed by, we rarely ever talk about it again, until the next situation comes up or until a big thing happens. And then, we start creating this hype, this big news, let’s talk about it again.

And I think that this is a very unhealthy cycle that we’re in because of these things you’re right. These things are happening daily and we should be highlighting these things every single day. Unfortunately just like the nature and like the culture that we’re in right now, talking about them when something big happens, is unfortunate. I do want to shift the topic a little bit and just talk about your journey as an entrepreneur and just building FreeWorld. I’m sure, being a founder, there comes with a lot of ups and downs, and you just experiencing so much growth with FreeWorld, I’m sure, there were times where you just look back and think, man, what am I doing? Is this worth it? Is this going to be worth it in the end? Why am I doing this? You are doing this for the betterment of the world, but I’m sure there are times when you think back and say am I going to be able to make it, can you talk about some of your darkest moments and how you overcame those moments as a founder and just what was going through your mind at the time?

[00:24:06] Jason Wang: Entrepreneurship comes with peaks and valleys. When you go through the valleys, that can be deep. Earlier this year, I felt like there was a real chance that FreeWorld might not survive because I was not having any success with fundraising. And this was a completely new system for me. I never understood how philanthropy works, or how institutions give out grants. And there were a lot of moments when I didn’t have fun anymore. You know what I’m saying? When you’re starting a business, especially on a shoestring budget, you have to be lean. And the problem with any early-stage organization is that you don’t have anyone single job.

As a CEO, I am the accountant, I am the fundraiser, I am the marketer, I am the operations person, and that filters down to our team as well, where the earliest stage team has to play a lot of different roles and wear a lot of different hats. It can be very challenging to manage a company going through a pandemic in a virtual world because all of our employees are remote.

You lose that sense of just getting to know somebody and being able to walk down the hall and just have those water-cooler moments. That being said, when I talk about entrepreneurship, I always talk about how, if you want to start a company, you have to be so incredibly in love with it. Because when you go through those peaks and valleys, like the pinks are great, you’re in the honeymoon phase, and you’re in love and everything’s good, but it’s the values, the parts where you’re not having fun anymore, or you don’t know whether or not you’re going to survive that you have to love it to keep going. And that’s exactly what happened with FreeWorld the previous year. And this year, I didn’t have fun at times, but I knew that this was my life’s work and my passion in life. And regardless of how many hours I needed to put in or what I needed to do, I was going to make this work. And fortunately, we had great supporters and a great network on our side that rallied together to help prop us up when we needed help.

And so that’s really what keeps this whole thing going. It’s not only my passion and devotion for FreeWorld but seeing how incredibly talented and passionate our team is in the services that we’re providing in the network of people who have surrounded FreeWorld with support and seeing our graduates daily, finding new pathways for their lives— that’s what makes it all worth it. 

[00:26:37] Maggie Chui: Oh, man, I love the enthusiasm. I just can tell that you are so passionate about the work that you do, Jason. You’re right. Being an entrepreneur does come with a lot of ups and downs. And for example, for myself and Bryan, just running Asian Hustle Network, there are times when we feel like we’re not having fun, and it is going to come up with days like that.

Being a founder is incredibly difficult and running a startup is incredibly difficult and you have to be passionate about the work that you do. And I can see that you are, you have so much passion and fire in the work that you do. And just like helping so many people who are in need.

I can tell that. All of these people that you’re helping, you’ve changed their life around, and I of want to know like what you do know from a mental health perspective, what you do to keep yourself up as well, because just helping so many people, it can feel very fulfilling.

But you need to also make sure that you take care of yourself as well as a founder, as an entrepreneur, as a person, and as a human being. So how do you manage your mental health and how do you make sure that you take care of yourself as well? 

[00:27:42] Jason Wang: Yeah the first thing to make very clear is that FreeWorld is creating the pathway. But at the end of the day, our students are the ones who walked through it. And so FreeWorld is not transforming anybody’s lives. We’re just providing the opportunity and people are choosing to transform their own lives. And that’s why they’ve been successful in life. And I’m just grateful that, that we get to be a small piece of that in terms of taking care of myself.

My board, I’ve gotten in trouble with my board so many times, especially during the early days. Cause I would work myself to the bone. Yeah, cause, this is what I do, there are no nights, there are no weekends, no holidays. And I’m not even exaggerating about this too, nor am I glorifying it, some so many people feel like, if I work more hours, I must be, a bad-ass and it shouldn’t matter is that what you’re doing is you’re burning yourself out because it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

And it took me a while to learn that. I’ll admit that today. I still don’t do the best job of taking care of myself. But the pandemic was a reality check for me. I had lost some very close relationships in my life. And, with the pandemic, I’m such a people person, but everything was closed down and I just saw so much pain and misery around me every single time that you went to the news, there’s always some crazy thing happening, the protests that were going on and the murder of George Floyd was so upsetting. 

I don’t think I have a hot take here as 2020 sucked. And that was a year where I had to take a lot of time to just work on myself. And so I ended up taking antidepressants. I took a little bit of time off FreeWorld. I ended up having to go see a therapist. These are all things that growing up as an Asian, you’re not used to, I remember telling my mom about going to therapy or taking anti-depressants and she looked at me and she goes, why do you need to tell somebody about your problems? Just choose to be happy she would say, you know why you’re taking all these pills, all this stuff it’s bad for your body. All my life, I’ve never taken pills. I just take, the Tiger Balm and all the other Asian remedies and that’s what worked for them. 

I just went through a dark place in my life. I learned a lot, going through the pandemic, and learning from that experience, we’ve now hired. We’ve doubled our team at this point. And so I feel more comfortable taking a little bit more time off.

As matter of fact, we now have an accountability system with my chief of staff and one of my board members, where if my chief of staff sees me sending out emails after 8:00 PM or working on the weekends, she’ll extra report me to my board directors. So that way they can hold me accountable. So it’s getting better. 

[00:30:19] Maggie Chui: That’s good. I’m glad to hear that it’s getting better and that you have the support system to catch you when you seem to be falling, or going past that AP. I’m so glad that you brought that up, just about like therapy and everything, because it helps.

And you’re right. Especially in the Asian culture, there is a stigma, a very big stigma that goes with, seeking therapy or, taking any kind of pills to help you mentally, and emotionally. And it’s something that we have to talk about more so than often. There is such a big stigma. That’s tied to it, being a founder comes with a lot of challenges.

And I think it’s very important for us to take care of ourselves, especially when you’re running such a large organization. There are so many people that are a part of the organization, you’re impacting their lives and I think it’s just really important for us to continue talking about how we can make sure that we take care of ourselves and take care of our mental health as well.

So thank you so much for sharing that. You did mention your mother and I know that part of the story in your chapter, in the Uplifted book, you did talk about your mother in the very beginning of that chapter, and she was such a big part of your life, I don’t want to give away too much of the chapter, she was sending you books and she was just trying to help you grow as a person.

And I just thought that was so inspirational and so powerful for a mother to be doing something like that. And I want to know, I guess it’s like a personal question, but how has your relationship with your mother changed? I’m sure, it’s a lot different from, how the chapter had begun.

[00:31:50] Jason Wang: Growing up, I had a tough relationship with my mom and it was because when my dad would beat me or, yell at me. There was a time when he chased me around the kitchen with a butcher knife. Other times he would throw tables and chairs at me. One time he stripped me down naked, threw me on the two, a four, and then stomped on me. And then after he had beaten me up, I was living in Iowa at the time. He literally threw me out into a blizzard, naked, and I was eight years old at that time. And during those times I remember looking to my mother for help and she didn’t defend me. And I hated her for a long time. It wasn’t until I got much older that I started to realize that she feared for her life as well. And that it wasn’t her fault because there wasn’t much that she could do at the time to save us. We’re living in Iowa.

My mom was an immigrant. She didn’t have any friends or family that she could turn to. She didn’t have any money. She didn’t have anything. So I hated her up until I went to prison. And when I went to prison, that’s when I started to not only understand, but appreciate a mother’s love a mother’s love is completely different than any other love of her experience in life.

And I have so much respect for mothers. Everywhere to see how much my mom’s sacrificed to take care of me, to love me, especially in a situation where she had no control over my physical world. I was in a prison system where we had riots every other week, where people were literally stabbing each other, people were getting raped, and it was just such a dark period of my life.

And through all that darkness, my mom was the shiny beacon of hope. She would drive 14 hours every single weekend to come to see me in prison for two hours, she would send me a massive amount of books because this was her way of keeping me safe. She thought if she could study books, she couldn’t surround me and protect me from all the other bad people in prison.

But if she engaged me intellectually, Through books and engaging material, then she hoped that I wouldn’t get involved in the bad things in life. And like how crazy is it to see somebody go through such great lengths to protect her child? It’s so profound. It’s such a big part of my life.

And it’s also the reason why after I was released from prison. The reason why I wanted to be successful wasn’t for myself, for the first time, make her proud and give her the life that she deserves. And, I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for her. 

[00:34:40] Maggie Chui: Wow. I’m getting so, teary-eyed just hearing you say that, I think, often, it’s easy for us to blame our parents the people that we think are our guardians if we feel that they don’t live up to those expectations, but oftentimes that person that we think is our guardian is most of the times trying to do their best. And we talk about, in the Asian community, we talk about trauma a lot.

We go through trauma and sometimes we say that we get trauma from our parents’ generational trauma. But we often forget that they have their trauma as well. And we don’t normally think about that. It’s easy for us to not even think about the experiences or challenges that our parents went through.

I’m so glad that you came to that realization and just seeing the love that she had for you when you were in prison and just, her just sending you books and driving so many hours to come to see you so often just goes to show the amount of love that she had for you. And I’m so glad that your relationship with your mother has changed in that.

[00:35:46] Jason Wang: Yeah, for the longest time, I hated my father as well. And it wasn’t until very recently that I decided to forgive him because I started to dig into his history and how he grew up. And when he was growing up, his father left him when he was a baby, his mother, whenever he would get into trouble, wouldn’t beat him then, she would wait until he was fast asleep at three or four o’clock in the morning. And she would go into his room and just beat the hell out of him. With a stick when he was 12 years old, he dropped out of sixth grade and had to travel to Hong Kong to start working in the factories, just to send money home to his parents.

And yeah, you can take a look at the way that he raised me and the way that he abused me and say, it’s terrible. Why would you do that to a person? But then when you start digging into his history, you start to realize that he was abused. And so he only did what he knew at the time. And that’s also a big problem that we face in the criminal justice system, where when our parents get incarcerated and it goes through all the struggles that they go through that then gets passed on to their kids because the parents never get an opportunity to break out.

[00:36:50] Maggie Chui: That’s so powerful. I agree. I think we often forget, the experiences that our parents went through. We have to think about that too, just to see how they treat us really connects to and ties back to like how they’re being treated like children as well.

Going to my next question. I do want to know, what is next for you for the next five to 10 years? What do you see happening for yourself and your world in the foreseeable future and what are your upcoming goals and plans? 

[00:37:19] Jason Wang: Yeah, this upcoming year is we’re going to be focused on scale.

I think that we’ve proven the model. We have a revenue stream. We now have amazing philanthropists who have supported our work. And so now, it’s time to grow over the next five to 10 years. The big goal for us is to get to a point of self-sustainability as a nonprofit. It is very difficult to grow a nonprofit when you rely solely on philanthropy.

And so we love to examine models where we can earn an income from the services that we provide so that we have control over our destiny and leverage philanthropic grants, to accelerate our growth. We also plan to go into other areas. In trucking, there is a huge opportunity right now where they need over a million new drivers just to keep up with current economic demand.

And we also have a large group of people with criminal records, who through the pandemic was the most significantly impacted. The rest of us already had a hard enough time as is going through the pandemic, but if you’ve got nothing, it was even worse. And so there’s a huge opportunity today to continue serving this huge population of people that were ravaged by the pandemic and to grow that we’re going to be going into other industries.

So trucking today, welding construction, decent mechanic training, perhaps the goal in the next 10 years is to create a platform where we can graduate a hundred thousand people every year. I think that by accomplishing these goals, we have a clear pathway toward first ending mass recidivism and generational poverty within these families.

But the tailwind, the effect of that over the next a hundred years is that this could make a meaningful dent in mass incarceration. And that’s the role that FreeWorld is here to play. 

[00:39:03] Maggie Chui: Oh, we’re very excited to hear more about your upcoming plans. I can’t wait to hear all about it in your monthly email updates.

And we have one last question for you, Jason. If you could give one piece of advice to someone who is trying to turn their life around and possibly, start a new business, that’s really speaking to the passion in their life. What would that one piece of advice be? 

[00:39:28] Jason Wang: So for somebody who’s looking to start their own business, it is to fail fast. Don’t wait to create a website and do all these other things, create an MVP product that costs almost nothing that you can just clobber together that looks like crap but functions, and just get it into the market. A lot of people waste a lot of time trying to perfect the logo and design, and none of that stuff matters.

If you don’t have a great service or great. So focus on delighting your customers first. And then once you have a target group that you really understand, that’s when you can start to perfect the other things around it, but this is all like lipstick on a pig if the product isn’t good so focus on that. 

[00:40:10] Maggie Chui: That’s really good advice. Yes. And I agree with you. I think a lot of people would try to perfect the product or the logo or their website before they release this or that. But I think, the most important thing is just to get it out, just do it first, and then you can base on feedback that you get from your customers, then you can perfect it.

[00:40:28] Jason Wang: Yeah, all the other stuff is such a waste of time. I spent a little bit of time creating my FreeWorld logo. Most likely, in two years, it’s going to change.

And, I just throw together a website and a year later it changed. And by the way, a year later, we’re about to change it again. So don’t worry about the superficial stuff focus on delighting your customers because they’re the ones they’re voting for. If nobody likes your product or service, you don’t have a business just an idea 

[00:41:00] Maggie Chui: That’s really good advice. Thank you for sharing that, Jason. So where can our listeners find out more about you and FreeWorld online? 

[00:41:05] Jason Wang: Yeah. So you can look me up on our website at www.joinfreeworld.com. All one word. You can also find me on Twitter  @jasonwaang. So I got creative and just put two A’s on my last name. I know I’m not very creative.