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In 2006, Gregg Keesling partnered with Thomas Gray to found RecycleForce as a response to the lack of opportunities available to help former prisoners rebuild their lives. RecycleForce is an Indianapolis-based social enterprise that delivers comprehensive and innovative recycling services in support of life-changing workforce training for formerly incarcerated individuals.
By using recycling as an opportunity to train some of the most high-risk individuals, RecycleForce gives a second chance to more than just discarded items. “We are taking the things we throw away and the people that society has thrown away, and we remake them into something new,” said Keesling.
While RecycleForce diverts over ten million pounds of recyclable materials from landfills every year, Keesling says his main focus has always been on the people. Since its founding, RecycleForce has employed over 1,800 individuals and helped them transition from temporary work to full-time employment.
Currently, Indiana has one of the the highest increase in incarceration rates in the country. Without intervention, around 54% of formerly incarcerated people will re-offend and be re-incarcerated within three years of being released. RecycleForce tackles this issue firsthand by successfully increasing previously incarcerated individuals’ employment earnings and reducing recidivism.
By reducing re-offending, RecycleForce diverts local taxpayers’ money from the prison and jail systems. “We all understand that it costs money to recycle. It also costs even more money to arrest and lock people up. If we could get everyone to understand that reducing our prison and jail populations would increase money, we could spend more on recycling and sustainability,” said Keesling.
When asked what people can do to contribute, Keesling encouraged people to donate “anything with an electrical cord” to RecycleForce’s downtown Indy location. Additionally, Keesling calls everyone to put people first—especially those that society seems to have rejected. “It takes a lot of effort,” he says. “Focus on people, at least equally, if not more so. If we focus on people, we’ll all get together to save it [the earth].”
Written by Joli Finley