State prison initiative helps female inmates earn money, work experience

PHOENIX (FOX 10) -- If we told you there is a big call center in the Valley that is responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, you might not be that surprised, but what if we told you that call center is behind the walls of a state prison, and the people making the calls and generating all that money are inmates?

"I was female athlete of the year in high school. I lettered in all sports." said Cyndi Davis. "Then, I met the wrong people one day. I spiraled down. Lost everything. Lost it all."

Davis lost everything to drug addiction, and that eventually included her freedom.

"When I was sentenced to eight years, I looked at my family and just started crying," said Davis. "I sat down and said its time Cindy, it's time to change your life."

Davis and hundreds of other women are now working to change their lives at the Televerde Call Center, where a group of workers make business-to-business phone calls, selling technology solutions to companies to increase their efficiency and profits. While it functions like many similar call centers in Arizona, there is a stark difference with Televerde, as it is inside the walls of Perryville Women's Prison, staffed by the women incarcerated there.

Every workday, Davis and Televerde colleagues make an unusual commute, walking from their cellhouse where they live, through a fortified gate, and into the single level Televerde building. There, they boot up their computers, pick up the phone, and get to work. It's something is a real privilege behind these fences.

"The fact that I walk out of prison means the most to me, because I talk to executives and they value my opinion," said Teresa Peterson.

The operation, though, produces more than confidence or self-esteem. 425 inmates work at the operation, generating over $300 million in revenue every year for well known Televerde clients like SAP, Honeywell, and Adobe. The women at the operation make the initial inroads to sales, and then, teams of professionals who are not in prison are sent out to close the deal.

"The women here earn money for themselves, for the company, for our clients," said Michelle Cirocco, the Chief Social Responsibility for Televerde. She's been with the company for over 20 years, and as one of the top executives, she reports directly to the CEO. Cirocco knows, first hand, the impact this program can have when it comes to turning women around.

"Over 20 years ago, I made some bad choices and found myself looking at a six-year sentence, which is where I came to know Televerde," said Cirocco. "It was an opportunity for me to change my life, which it has obviously done."

Inmates with Televerde are earning both job experience and money. In fact, Peterson says she will walk out of the prison with about $20,000 earning when she is released in 2020. These inmates have the tools they need to lead successful lives on the outside, as well as avoiding making the bad choices that got them to the prison, and keep them coming back.