By Allie Conti
Kathy Hochul showed up at VICE’s Brooklyn headquarters on Tuesday and asked if anyone had heard of the Erie Canal. As New York State’s lieutenant governor explained, the navigable water route was originally the idea of a Geneva flour merchant stuck in debtor’s prison. While he was locked up, the man wrote a series of detailed essays for a local newspaper about how commercial transportation might be improved. A politician who later became governor, DeWitt Clinton, took an interest in these ideas, and a decade after the articles’ publication, construction began on what was then one of the most ambitious projects in American history.
“Two hundred years ago, we had a governor who knew the value of people who had paid their debt to society and had so much more to give,” Hochul said.
Along with other officials from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, Hochul was on hand to encourage companies to hire from the pool of roughly 2.3 million people with criminal records in New York. After airing an HBO Special called Fixing the System in 2015, in which Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, VICE reached out to the Center for Employment Opportunities about starting an apprenticeship program for former inmates.
Now five young men are halfway through the first iteration of the company’s six-month initiative, and Hochul wants more local business owners to sign the “Work for Success” pledge online in an effort to provide new opportunities for formerly incarcerated people.