When Augie Ghilarducci found himself isolated in “the hole” in Minnesota’s Sandstone federal prison due to a false accusation, he had nothing but time to think.
In the first 10 months of his nearly 13-year prison term leading up to the isolation, Augie had been angry and bitter, blaming others for his troubles and justifying the series of bad decisions he had made that led to his conviction for investment fraud. But, clearly, that attitude wasn’t getting him anywhere.
As he reflected on his life during his month in the hole, his self-pity was slowly replaced by acceptance, and he realized that he could move forward and emerge from this experience a better man. When an officer handed him clothes to return to the general prison population, Augie was determined to use his knowledge, experience, and pain to help others.
Serving time gave Augie a clear perspective on the prison system and how desperately things needed to change. He saw inmates struggling to read, understand important legal correspondence, and perform essential financial tasks like budgeting, balancing a checkbook, paying taxes, and saving for the future. Men and women were leaving the system woefully unprepared to re-enter society and build a new life for themselves and their families. It’s no wonder so many failed and ended up back in prison.
Augie started creating workbooks to teach financial literacy, employment readiness, and other crucial life skills to his fellow inmates. As the programming caught on, he chased down a prison staff member in charge of education, who let him convert a big, abandoned area in the law library into a classroom and gave him free rein to run any classes he wanted. Augie used his own money to create signs and prepare handouts on a 50-year-old IBM typewriter.
Eight guys showed up for the first class, and once word got out, “Mr. Ghilarducci’s class” was always full, with a minimum of 30 students for the next 12 years. It wasn’t that these guys didn’t want to learn, Augie realized – it was that learning in the traditional sense didn’t work for some of them. His material and style resonated with them. It wasn’t long before prison officials took notice and gave the program their stamp of approval, eventually making it mandatory for those in the prison’s drug treatment program.
Augie had the opportunity to impact the lives of people outside the prison, too. The warden placed him in a community outreach program that allowed him to go into high schools, colleges, universities, and business groups to share the lessons he had learned from his ethical failures.
In July 2017, Augie was released from prison and returned to Chicago. Less than six months later, he was invited to Chicago’s Cook County jail – one of the nation’s largest – to share his story and teach his programs. In January 2018, 2nd Opportunity was born. Thanks to a series of fortuitous events, Augie was soon introduced to businessman Dan Effrein. A recovering alcoholic who had overcome his own set of challenges, Dan believed that Augie’s hope-inspiring message would resonate with a broader audience and saw the need to make his programs available to nonprofits, workforce development organizations, and government agencies.
In June of that year, Dan joined 2nd Opportunity as executive director and helped to refine the company’s mission: to empower those experiencing incarceration, addiction, trauma, loss, and other life-changing circumstances to break the chains of the past and build a positive new future. While Dan worked on building the business, Augie expanded and refined the program offerings. Soon he was sharing 2nd Opportunity’s programs five days a week in jails and prisons, substance abuse recovery centers, halfway houses, probation departments, workforce development organizations, and with at-risk youth groups.
Augie also constructed a model called “Collaboration for Social Benefit” that provides life-skills training, facilitates specific career training, and refers individuals to meaningful jobs at a living wage.
As demand for the programming grew, the two-man band began to add new members. In addition to bringing on an outreach coordinator and communications director, Augie strategically recruited other men and women with lived experience who had overcome their past and made incredible contributions to society through advocacy, re-entry work, and criminal justice reform since their release. He invited them to bring their experience and passion to 2nd Opportunity as fellow thought leaders and program presenters.
Technology helped the company evolve further. Today, we offer four methods of delivery for our programs — in person, via WebEx or Zoom, online, and via tablet — allowing our team of presenters to meet our audience where they are and bring the greatest value and impact to program participants.
As we move into this next chapter of our journey, we’re humbled and energized by the work ahead of us. With so many people still struggling to get traction in life after incarceration, addiction, trauma, or loss – both in our own backyard and across the country – we’re committed to continuing to leverage technology to expand our reach within Illinois and beyond.
Every member of our team knows what it’s like to face crushing setbacks and come out on the other side. Now we’re reaching back to give others hope – with a plan.
2nd Opportunity’s transformational programs were custom-designed based on a combination of research and lived experience and are taught by mentors who have walked in the same shoes as our audience. Our programs are delivered live – either in person or virtually – to groups of varying sizes over multiple sessions, as well as online and via tablet. Our three primary programs are available in both English and Spanish.
Since we know firsthand that people need access to resources and support in order to successfully rebound from life’s falls, 2nd Opportunity also provides a comprehensive support and referral network to help them as they start and continue down their new path.
Recognizing that people who are restarting their lives are often financially challenged, we developed a sponsorship program that makes it possible for even more individuals to access our transformative programs and follow-up services. Those who want to help can sponsor one or more program participants to enroll in our computer-based courses and access our job and housing referral network, virtual peer support groups, and one-on-one mentoring.
Our programs give people the skill sets and tools they need to move forward with dignity and purpose, while also becoming productive, self-sufficient members of society. When you become a 2nd Opportunity sponsor, your money will directly help recipients find hope for a better future – and give them a plan to get there.