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Former cheerleader, drug dealer turned entrepreneur putting convicted felons in Dallas to work

September 6, 2016  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Former cheerleader, drug dealer turned entrepreneur putting convicted felons in Dallas to work

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A 29-year-old Dallas publicist and entrepreneur who helps put convicted felons to work had more than her fair share of hardships before she completely turned her life around.

Cheri Garcia, a former high school cheerleader, began dealing meth to sustain her addiction but was luckily for her never caught. However, she was arrested for other offenses such as driving while intoxicated, theft, and multiple lesser offenses she lost count.

However, Garcia never served time behind bars.

“If you were to pull up my record, the only thing you’d find is a DWLS — driving while license suspended — in 2007,” Garcia said. “There was some white privilege there, honestly. That’s why I do what I do now.”

According to the Dallas Morning News, Garcia launched Cornbread Hustle two months ago, which is a staffing company that assists convicted felons with finding a job. She and Michael Elliot, her operations manager, have already employed over 30 former inmates, particularly in construction, lawn care, and bakery jobs.

Cornbread Hustle is a for-profit business that collects a dollar or two of an employee’s hourly wages but usually provides transportation to and from work and attempts to work out the conflicting requirements with parole officers and employers. Most of the positions pay about $11 or $12 per hour for convicted felons.

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Former cheerleader, drug dealer now an entrepreneur started Cornbread Hustle, which helps put Dallas felons to work

Although the company is still in its early stages, Garcia says it’s already making profits and garnering attention.

Volunteer of America Texas, a nonprofit residential re-entry program for convicted felons, asked Garcia to assist 250 convicted felons, both men, and women at its halfway house, according to Chief Development Officer. Jennifer Leney.

Cornbread Hustle also has more job listings Garcia could only fill, if parole officers were more adaptable and would allow her to pay for additional drivers to transport the employees to and from work.

“When I work with these guys, I see how hard it is… I’m trying to get them a job, but their parole officer won’t let them go to the job site because of ankle monitor restrictions,” she stated

“If you’re the first person to give them a chance on the outside, they don’t want to let you down. It’s a personal thing,” she added. “Embarrassing me in front of an employer would shatter their world.”

Garcia’s story was recently featured in the Huffington Post and on Steve Harvey’s TV show. However, she kept the tale of her criminal past quiet around the Dallas area.

“I grew up super-privileged,” Garcia told the Dallas Morning News. “My mom and dad worked for Sprint, and both made six figures. We had a nice house in The Colony in a nice neighborhood.”

Cheri was first in trouble with the law when she was caught shoplifting at 13-years-old. At 15, her parents sent her to juvenile hall for Thanksgiving weekend, hoping to scare her into behaving herself.

Her home environment began to disintegrate during her junior year when her parents filed for divorce.

She told the newspaper: “I had heard about meth, and somebody told me that it makes you lose weight, stay up late, have energy and get good grades. And I was like, ‘Who wouldn’t want that?’ I tried it once and did it every single day after that day for two years.”

Drug dealers would provide her with meth if she were able to recruit her own clients. “Frisco soccer moms, as sad as that is, were my best customers because they were too scared to get out and get it themselves. But they wanted to clean the house all day and be productive and be wired,” she announced.

Although it remains in its early stages, Cornbread Hustle has garnered national attention

Although it remains in its early stages, Cornbread Hustle has garnered national attention

Garcia, who was Cheri Chafin at the time, moved out of the house when she was a senior in high school. She was caught for marijuana after a neighbor whined about the stench. Since she’d smoked all her weed and didn’t have any left, she evaded arrest, but instead reported the incident to her school.

She got booted from the cheerleading team and had to perform community service to get her diploma.

In 2007, Garcia had a frightening encounter when she had a virulent reaction to taking methadone in hopes of coming down from a meth high. She awoke to realize that her mother might one day find her dead.

“God gave me the second chance — not the courts, not anyone else. God gave me a second chance. From that day on, I never did drugs again.”

She aspired to get into a broadcasting career and worked as a gymnastics coach, photographer, and circuit-board designer for close to four years as she harassed local TV stations to give her a job.

In 2011, Garcia was hired as an assignments editor with KTVT-TV, a CBS affiliate in Fort Worth. The same week, she was offered a job with another station as well, and accepted both offers. However, neither of her new employers were aware that she was serving probation and was required to take monthly drug tests.

CBS soon fired Garcia after inadvertently hitting the reply-all button on an obscenity-filled email about her bosses.

After she had been let go, she asked Jeff Crilley, a former reporter for Fox News, for a freelance position at his Real News Public Relations. She immediately went from doing contract work to becoming the agency vice president earning six figures a year.

“If Cheri can’t climb in the window, she’ll kick down the door,” said Crilley, who was aware of her history when he hired her. “She’ll figure out a way to get into the house. I always liked her moxie. I think she may have a Mensa-level genius. Combined with street hustle, that’s a powerful recipe for a great PR person,” he says.

She then left her job and managed to raise $500,000 from investors to develop an app called RentEval.

Among other things, she is also an expert publicist, who assists Mark Cuban with spreading the news about Cyber Dust, his private texting app. Cuban provides her with free office space and permits her to drop his name when advertising herself.

Cuban said, “What Cheri is doing is great … I get questions on Cyber Dust from those she is helping all the time, and she has had a positive impact. They truly appreciate her help.”

Garcia first encountered Elliott while she was a volunteer in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program in 2015. He’d obtained his bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Texas and was serving 20-years for drug possession and theft.

“I was getting out at the same time she needed someone to do her RentEval app,” Elliot says. “She hired me from inside.”

The man was released from prison back in June and will be on probation for the next seven years, so he truly understands the challenges that the agency’s workers face.

Along with the staffing firm, Garcia also teaches free classes for convicted felons and people who are looking to get their lives back together.

Garcia is hoping to recruit funders so that she can give meals at her classes and provide additional transportation for employees.

“We’re growing so fast; I’m starting to get worried. Most entrepreneurs have a rough past. When they see what I’m doing, they want to give a second chance,” she added.

Eliazar Salinas, who owns the Frezko Taco Spot, hired Kenneth Koreba through the agency to help with his food truck.

The 31-year-old was released from custody two months ago after serving five of his 11-year sentence for drug dealing. He aims to one day open his own food truck and restaurant.

“I’ve found out a lot that I didn’t know about it — the behind-the-scenes stuff, you know,” Koreba stated. “Every day is a new day. I’m blessed to have such good people around me who actually care about me fulfilling my dreams.”

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