Brian’s Story: From housing insecure to hopeful and helping others
How Brian Sullivan built his small business and found success after his experiences with our nation’s flawed correctional system
Goodwin University’s Entrepreneurial Network (ENet) is an 18-college credit certificate program for underserved populations and those formerly and currently incarcerated. Graduates of Goodwin’s ENet program form their own small business startups while furthering their financial independence.
Below is ENet graduate Brian Sullivan’s small business success story
A fortunate future
When reflecting on his return home after serving a 22-year prison sentence, Brian Sullivan stated, “It was surreal, to say the least.”
Originally sentenced to 28-years, the Chief State’s Attorney modified Brian’s term after tracking his incarceration journey and being impressed by all he had accomplished with his time on the inside.
“My first day out, I sat back and did some introspection on what had transpired over my life and how fortunate I was to be home,” Brian recalled.
And with his newfound freedom, he sought opportunities to become the best version of himself.
A program more profound than a piece of paper
Brian attended a Reentry Collaborative Roundtable in Hartford, a partnership of local and state organizations seeking to acknowledge and address gaps in services for those reentering society after incarceration.
At the Roundtable, Brian was introduced to Professor Matt Connell. He was impressed by Dr. Connell’s enthusiasm as he spoke about Goodwin University’s Entrepreneurial Network and how the program served students.
“I had been a part of reentry for 20 years as a program facilitator on the inside,” Brian acknowledged. “I had direct contact with many agencies that offer services via different programs, and, to be honest, no one seemed to believe in what they were promoting, except Professor Matt.”
Once Brian enrolled in the ENet program, he went through many challenges in his transition from 22 years in prison to everyday society. “There were times when I was homeless, and Professor Matt would always reach out and offer help. Empathy is always bigger than sympathy, and he demonstrated that day after day.”
Brian’s ENet experience was not limited to just one educator. “All the professors were great and went above and beyond,” he expressed appreciatively. “What they did and how they helped me was amazing. They have done more than anyone else in my journey thus far, and it was always bigger than just getting a certificate.”
Insights while incarcerated
While in prison, Brian participated in and completed every program available. He worked closely with the counselors and the incarcerated population. Brian quickly learned that there were underlying issues that contributed to many individuals returning to prison, barriers that weren’t being addressed.
“Having been one of those individuals, I addressed my issues and then began to help others with theirs,” Brian detailed. “I helped create curriculums that were geared more toward addressing the issues that plague those who are most susceptible to returning to prison.”
Knowing first-hand the difficulties of reintegrating into society, and how hard it is to make it on the outside post-release, Brian used the entrepreneurial education he gained from Goodwin and created the organization CHAMPS:
“Pitfalls reintegrating into society after prison begin with unhealthy thinking, unrealistic expectations, and a ‘poor me’ attitude,” Brian explained. “Factors like not exploring opportunities on the outside for fear of rejection and lack of housing or employment options cause many to return to prison. And not facing the real issues while incarcerated allows for the same behaviors to exist upon release. These issues are just the tip of what plagues those released and what keeps the recidivism rate at the levels it’s been for decades.”
Helping men find a healthy outlook
As for his organization’s name and the noble mission of creating healthy attitudes in men, Brian wholeheartedly honed in on his belief that what a person thinks and how a person perceives their environment determines how they move and function — ultimately guiding them to success or failure.
“A healthy attitude allows a person to see clearly and move wisely,” Brian enlightened.
“In prison, we have males that look like men, but deep down inside, they are still little boys, and we have boys that are trying to be men but have no real role models to follow. As a starting point, from the ground up, we must address the issues that have stunted their growth since childhood.”
“Being part of the solution is my main goal,” Brian emphasized. “I want to do my part to rebuild boys into men. I want to reduce the prison population and rebuild families, so the vicious cycle from the Department of Children and Families to the Department of Corrections stops. I want to change the narrative that has become the norm in our inner-city communities.”
An exceptional education in entrepreneurship
Of all the post-release programs in which Brian has participated since his return home, “the ENet program has provided me with the greatest opportunity to succeed in life,” he revealed.
Of the most influential factors to ensure graduates a flourishing future, Brian complimented Goodwin for going above and beyond academics — conveying, “ENet provides students the tools and support needed to navigate the return to society and to prosper, not just exist.”
“Nothing compares to the chances that Goodwin and ENet have provided for me,” he specified. “The support that Goodwin offers and continues to offer is unheard of. From day one, the staff were so caring and professional — everyone from the admissions staff to clerical help. Not only does the program offer a chance to enrich student lives through education, but it builds them up for a life of success through entrepreneurship.”
A student’s stepping stone to success
When asked what advice he would give to those starting over, “You can’t give up,” Brian encouraged. “You have to take things one day at a time, and slowly going through each day is key.”
“There is help, and you can do it,” he reassured. “Goodwin and the ENet program are huge stepping stones toward achieving the goals and dreams you hope to accomplish.”
While reflecting on all that Brian has accomplished, Dr. Connell boasted about Brian with admiration and pride.
“Brian is a powerful individual with a sense of what he wants to get out of life. He showed up 100% of the time for all aspects of the program, even when the obstacles in front of him seemed insurmountable. Brian is full of life and positivity,” Connell said, “and his CHAMPS program provides amazing resources to help others incarcerated make the transition home.”
“I can’t say enough about what Goodwin did for my classmates and me,” Brian credited.
“Never once did I feel like I was being treated differently from a regular student. When times got tough and I needed some extra help, they went above what anyone else did or even offered. When I was homeless and hungry, they were there for me — checking in on me, offering food and assistance — it blew my mind. Even after I graduated, faculty and staff still reached out to check in on me. What Goodwin has done and continues to do to positively change the community and its citizens is unparalleled.”
— A true testament to the University’s tagline “For our students…it’s better here.”
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.