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Show gives second chances to the formerly incarcerated

Think The Apprentice, with a Law and Order twist. The CBC-TV reality show Redemption Inc. offers 10 ex-convicts a chance to start their own business — their own legitimate business, of course.

The participants are guided by ubiquitous multi-millionaire businessman Kevin O’Leary (Dragons’ Den and The Lang and O’Leary Exchange) through a series of challenges that range from marketing to sales. Helping O’Leary assess their progress is Brian O’Dea, a Newfoundlander for whom the role is particularly resonant. The ultimate winner gets $100,000 in seed money to make their business dreams become a reality.

So what drew O’Dea to the show? “It was like my entire life experience landed on the head of a pin,” he acknowledges.

O’Dea is the award-winning author of the 2006 memoir High: Confessions of a Pot Smuggler, a film and TV producer (Creepy Canada) and regular speaker about his experiences to young people struggling with addictions.

But before all that, O’Dea ran a marijuana-smuggling operation that imported hundreds of millions of dollars of product, and saw him oversee a workforce of 120. He was eventually caught and sentenced to 10 years, serving four in jail.

Ex-convicts face a hard road, O’Dea notes, with criminal records weighing them down and relegating them to low-paying jobs. People like the 10 participants in Redemption Inc. all “deserve another chance,” he believes. After all, he faced similar hurdles not that long ago.

“The fact of the matter is I’ve noticed in prison that an awful lot of the people who are in there are actually self-motivated entrepreneurial types who just paid attention to the wrong side,” O’Dea says. The show aims to help put them on the right track.

O’Dea says he hopes Redemption Inc. aids in removing the term “them” from the national lexicon, and generates a dialogue. “We’ve got a government that’s building super-max prisons right now and starting mandatory minimums when the rest of the world is realizing that shit don’t work,” he says. “That camel doesn’t fly.”

Redemption Inc. airs Monday nights over a nine-week season on CBC-TV, beginning Jan. 9.

By Rob Antle

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