Lifelong Information for Entrepreneurs (LIFE)


In 2007, MCNW launched Lifelong Education for Entrepreneurs (LIFE) at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility (CCCF) in Wilsonville, OR.

The LIFE prison reentry program reduces recidivism up to 50%; building resiliency and establishing self-sufficiency and economic stability for incarcerated individuals and their families.

“LIFE isn’t just about business, it is about life.  It really shows you the skills and tools of business that all apply to re-entry! I once heard “When you’re struggling to survive, you stop dreaming.” …That’s what LIFE did, it helped me to remember to dream.

– LIFE Graduate, June 2018

LIFE Inside, Entrepreneurship Training for Incarcerated People

This 32 weeks of accredited training empowers participants to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and leverages the potential of self-employment promote resilience, and economic stability. Currently serving women at Oregon’s only women’s prison, Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, with hopes of expansion to a men’s facility, the LIFE Inside class provides business planning and training that promotes:

  • Job creation and economic self-sufficiency
  • Reduces reliance on social welfare programs
  • Prevents further criminal activity
  • Most of all, it betters the lives of these individuals, their families and communities.

When women graduate from this program, they are equipped with an amended business plan, transition plan, certificate of achievement, two versions of their resume and three credits attributed to their college transcripts.

“This program encouraged me to reach my potential. The experience was of self discovery, accountability, and self discipline. I learned to set goals, use resources and hold myself to a standard that provided me with a sense of worth and accomplishment.”

– LIFE Graduate, June 2018

The classes are delivered by MCNW staff with help from community experts and volunteers. Students are taught small business development topics such as profit and loss projections, legal organization, break-even analysis and marketing as well life skills such as effective communication, conflict management, goal planning and time management.

“This program presents the inner workings of how to make a business plan. It’s a step-by-step guide that is comprehensive, objective and related specifically to each individual. I gratefully say that it  has changed and organized my life- the transition plan is a complete game changer. I have a concrete plan of how, when and where I’ll reach my goals and pave the way to start my business plan. I even know how to talk to an employer about the gap in my work history and my criminal record. This LIFE Program wins!”

– LIFE Graduate, June 2018

LIFE Outside, Support for a Successful Reentry Back into Society

In the very beginning of its life cycle, the LIFE Outside project hopes to pilot a social enterprise that creates change in our community generates sustaining revenue to the LIFE Program. We hope to create an innovative, groundbreaking, response to the needs of individuals who have been recently released from prison. This initiative is both a response to the loss of the Mercy Corps Northwest Reentry Transition Center and to the growing prison population in Oregon. The RTC served many who were recently released from prison via a peer led and supportive model. Our hope is to continue to offer services to recently released individuals. It is important to our team that our response to this growing crisis is innovative and creates lasting change in the lives of the people we serve, therefore creating change in the local community, families, and the region at large. The dream is this: a social enterprise that employs LIFE Inside graduates, offers supportive management, incentivises education, and is a launching pad to the greater employment market.

The LIFE program also incorporates bridging services to allow participants to meet 1:1 with a qualified professional both pre and post release. During these meetings staff and participants work together to create a realistic and practical transition plan.

  • Pre-Release Identifies gaps and gives individualized feedback on the student’s transition plan, offers county-specific resource information and provides assistance in navigating and accessing primary medical care, mental health, and addictions treatment, and delivers practical support related to problem-solving, stress-management, action planning, and communication skills.
  • Post-release – Gives in-person or phone-based counseling and emotional support, as well as referrals to medical/mental health care, housing, A&D support, and other re-entry services.

Along with coursework and mentoring support of the LIFE Inside class, MCNW offers an innovative matched savings program that encourages both the fiscal discipline of saving toward a goal, and the development of resources for successful reentry. Students must demonstrate consistent attendance, complete homework, create and execute a savings plan based on their current earnings and needs, and complete both a transition plan and a business plan. Once they have filled these requirements, the students are eligible for a $500 grant for transition needs upon release.

“The LIFE Program gives us hope for a better life. Not only hope, but the tools and confidence to follow through with our dreams and goals. This program changes lives. It will break the cycle of incarceration and addiction for those of us that take it seriously. This program is helping me have a second chance at life.”

– LIFE Graduate, June 2018

LIFE has been recognized on a national level for its one-of-kind approach to weave together entrepreneurial, life skills, and reentry planning as a solution for reducing recidivism and ending mass incarceration. Specifically, in 2017, the LIFE program was highlighted in policy paper published by The Aspen Institute, an internationally recognized educational and policy studies organization, entitled Prison to Proprietorship.

Learn More about LIFE

Why the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility?

Over 1,000 Oregon women are incarcerated in Coffee Creek Correctional Facility (CCCF); about one-quarter are re-convicted of a felony within three years of release. Two critical issues for women’s success upon returning to the community are getting a job and staying healthy:

  • Poor work histories, minimal education, and criminal records can make securing living-wage jobs difficult.
  • Over 75% of women in CCCF have mental health needs; over 80% have substance use issues.
  • Health problems put formerly incarcerated women at higher risk of unemployment.

With a goal to to improve incarcerated women’s employment success, mental and physical health, and to decrease recidivism, MCNW works with Portland Community College and the staff of CCCF to provide entrepreneurial training that builds upon existing vocational training programs in optometry, cosmetology, plant management, welding and horticulture (visit Coffee Creek Gardens). The financial literacy and business planning of the LIFE curriculum complements these vocational training programs and promotes the individuals’ potential for self-employment.



This project has been supported over the years by the organizations listed below.