Tianna Oakley-​​Perry was recently released from prison after serving time for selling cocaine. She left with more than good luck wishes.

An inno­v­a­tive pro­gram devel­oped through a col­lab­o­ra­tion between North­eastern Uni­ver­sity and the Boston Public Health Com­mis­sion (BPHC) has pre­pared Oakley-​​Perry to recast her­self as a small-​​business entre­pre­neur by fol­lowing through on her life­long interest in com­puters. She plans to enroll in com­puter sup­port classes this Jan­uary, with the ulti­mate goal of opening her own business.

It’s a goal she shares with the cohort of women who grad­u­at­ed­Friday from the Safe and Sound Return Entre­pre­neur­ship Training Insti­tute. The ini­tia­tive, devel­oped by Northeastern’s Insti­tute on Urban Health Research (IUHR) in part­ner­ship with the Col­lege of Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion (CBA) and the BPHC, teaches entre­pre­neurial skills to women impris­oned for offenses such as selling drugs. As they reenter the com­mu­nity, the women are encour­aged to uti­lize, in pos­i­tive ways, the entre­pre­neurial instincts that led to their incarceration.

I’ve learned about busi­ness star­tups, money, and grants and how impor­tant these tools are going to be,” said Oakley-​​Perry. “We had a guest speaker come in who was down on her luck, with two chil­dren, no money, just down and out, and she started her own cleaning com­pany. It was just an idea sit­ting over the table with her sister and her girl­friend. I never would have thought it would’ve launched into some­thing so big.”

She said that all 10 of her weekly classes in the pro­gram had pro­vided some­thing valu­able towards helping her reach her busi­ness goals — but that hearing from peers who were suc­cessful was espe­cially heartening.

Real people come in to talk to us; real people with real-​​life issues from incar­cer­a­tion,” she said. “That gives you a sense of hope. You feel so good at the end of the day leaving class. It’s like, ‘Wow, I learned some­thing new and met someone I can relate to.’ And when your career coaches come in, they don’t talk at you, they listen, and coming from incar­cer­a­tion, that’s very, very important.”

Oakley-​​Perry joined her class­mates at the grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony at the BPHC, where the women gave pre­sen­ta­tions on their future edu­ca­tion and busi­ness plans and received cer­tifi­cates for com­pleting the program.

The insti­tute, sup­ported by a three-​​year, $1.2 mil­lion fed­eral grant, will run four times a year with approx­i­mately 10 to 12 women in each cohort. They meet once each week for 10 weeks, and classes focus on com­puter skills, résumé building and for­mu­lating start-​​up busi­nesses. It also pro­vides women with pre– and post-​​release ser­vices including plan­ning for com­mu­nity re-​​entry, substance-​​abuse relapse pre­ven­tion and edu­ca­tion, skills building and group and indi­vidual coun­seling through the BPHC.

We devel­oped the training insti­tute to help women realize their dreams,” said IUHR director Hort­ensia Amaro, “whether they be edu­ca­tion or employ­ment, and to recon­nect women with the dreams they may have lost.”

Entre­pre­neur­ship can become a med­i­cine for a lot of prob­lems,” said William Tita, a CBA lec­turer in entre­pre­neur­ship and inno­va­tion. “Their vices, put in another con­text, can be virtues. The women reen­tering the com­mu­nity have faced mon­u­mental chal­lenges and have lost con­fi­dence in them­selves. This pro­gram helps them develop a new mindset.”