Free Spirit Affirmative Business: Employment for offenders with serious mental illness
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This case study evaluates the process of affirmative business development within a federal correctional psychiatric facility for federal offenders with mental illness serving long or indeterminate sentences. It examines how the business associates (i.e., offenders with mental illness who are self-employed in the affirmative business) change through working in the affirmative business, and what challenges and benefits they experience. The aim is to disseminate knowledge that will assist in developing supported employment opportunities for offenders with serious mental illness. Qualitative and participatory research methods are used to give a descriptive account of the experience of 14 business associates within a critical paradigm. The framework that guided this study included the Canadian Model of Occupational Performance and Engagement (CMOP-E); the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB); and a Community Economic Development (CED) approach. Strategies were incorporated to maintain rigor and ensure trustworthiness and quality of the findings. The data outlined the first 6 years of the affirmative business. Interviews and observations were conducted during year 7 and 8 of the affirmative business. Reviews of documents and artifacts were current and historical in nature. Three overlapping phases of business development, outreach, and replication are discussed along with their corresponding core tasks of skepticism, tensions of growth, and transformation. Within each phase, six overlapping themes emerge: business development; personal growth, recovery, and hope; ongoing support; the prison environment; volunteerism; and the community. Self-employment within the affirmative iii business emerges as having an encouraging effect on promoting empowerment and recovery, increasing self-reliance and self-efficacy, helping symptoms, learning new ways to resolve conflict, and improving understanding of employment support needs.