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Conversations, stories and perspectives from returned citizens in Southwest Ohio

ReEntry Stories: Expanding Creativity

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courtesy of Azizi Carter
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Azizi Carter is an artist and business owner.

Today on ReEntry Stories we meet Azizi Carter, the third in our series about women who took advantage of training opportunities in prison and made it a stepping stone to a new life.

Azizi is from San Francisco and she was incarcerated at the Ohio Reformatory for Women for five years. When she got out, she moved back to her home town, and today she has her own businesses. While she was in prison, Azizi took classes that gave her a head start and helped her get accepted to college.

Transcript (edited lightly for length and clarity):

Azizi Carter So I was incarcerated, I was taking a class under Mr. Mansoor for Web design and media. And then I also took his art class. So it expanded my skills. I started using charcoal and then I learned all about web design and new media. I got certified in there and when I got out, I went straight to college at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

Mary Evans I always talk to people [who ask] like, how did you survive? Because they have these misconceptions of what it's really like. Did you use your love for art and your passion for learning design as a side hustle in there? And if so, what did you do?

Azizi Carter Well, I did the charcoal, so people would want, like, portraits of loved ones that they would send home or some of the girls for their friends inside, or their associates, when their birthdays would come or holidays, they would order from, me a portrait of somebody, so they'd give me a picture, or it could be a superstar or someone that they really liked and I would charcoal it out for them. I did a little bit of crocheting at ORW, but I did a lot more at another institution I was at. But at ORW, I, I did a lot of charcoaling and it helped me. So when they would order it just made me better because I was practicing all the time. So I just get even better at it.

Mary Evans What all steps did you have to take to start your business as a returned citizen?

Azizi Carter Well, I have two businesses. I'm a franchisee. It was great for that to happen for me, you know, the first place I went to denied me because of my background. This other place, they didn't even ask like we had a meeting and they actually got to know me. They didn't look into that first. They actually got to know me. So once they got to know me and we had our meeting and I did my training, I was able to be a franchisee. So that was my first thing.

First thing was getting out and going to school. I was like, I'm going to school, straight to school. I picked my school while I was incarcerated. My aunt actually spoke with the people. The guy was like, why can't I speak with her? And after so long, she just he asked her, you know, where is she incarcerated? I had to I had to show a lot of my artwork to them. And I appreciate the school, even if the higher ups didn't know the guy that enrolled me, that allowed me in admissions to get past everything. That was a blessing. And then I said, I'm going to do a clothing line. I was going to come out with my own brand. So I did. I just did it. I woke up one day. I made (laughs) I made this bear and I said, I'm going to put him on a shirt or hoodie, and I made everyone is like, who does your website? Who does your marketing? I'm like, I do all of it. No one does nothing for me. So when I do advertisements, I don't really post a lot on Facebook, I do a lot on Instagram.

My school has taught me so much, like, I would never have been able to make half of the stuff that I make that I post online outside because I show that I do web design, I do logos. I can help you create your whatever you want for your brand and stuff. And I have clients now, so I'm excited about that. I do all of it and I have to give it to the school.

It wasn't easy for me. I hadn't had my kids in years. You know, I had to to be a mom again. They had to respect me again. I had to stay with family members. I had to take the bus. I had to ride the BART. I had to do everything that I didn't want to do and that I wasn't used to. It's not going to be easy, but you just can't give up. You just keep fighting for what you want.

Mary Evans Azizi hopes to have her own marketing firm one day.

ReEntry Stories is created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.