Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography
Meet a Fargo Social Entrepreneur Changing the Conversation About Felons
Five years ago, Adam Martin was jobless, car-less and just getting out of his latest stint in prison when he decided to apply for a sales job at a local technology company. It wound up not only becoming the impetus for him turning his own life around but allowed him to launch an organization that’s now helping fellow felons do the same. In 2016, he founded F5 Project, a Fargo nonprofit that helps the incarcerated transition back to civilian life through housing, mentorship and other services. With his new company, F5 Ventures, which specializes in top line sales funneling, Martin hires many former felons. In fact, in the last six months, Martin has hired six felons and the business is quickly taking off. Here are 10 things to know about the organization and the individuals it represents.
Project Founder Adam Martin
Originally from Moorhead, Adam Martin jokes that, being the son of parents who met in a treatment facility, he was “pretty screwed from the start.” After years of troublemaking and recreational drug use, in 2013, Martin made a decision to turn his life around and was hired on as a sales rep at a local technology company. After doing that for a few years, he decided to pursue something closer to “where his heart was” and founded F5 Project, a Fargo nonprofit that helps area felons transition from incarceration to civilian life.
1. It was after a speech he gave at a United Way event that Adam Martin realized just how badly the local business community needed a face of addiction and incarceration.
Martin: “I spoke at that United Way event, and before I even got off the stage, my inbox was full, as were my Facebook updates and tweets. There were people coming out of the woodwork who had been my clients for a long time telling me, ‘I have a brother in prison. I have no idea what to do.’ That was kind of how (F5) started, just by having conversations with loved ones.”
2. Excitement and enthusiasm, though, soon gave way to the burden of true responsibility.
Martin: “I liked the limelight. I enjoyed being in the paper and having people blogging and tweeting about how awesome I am. To be honest, those first couple months, I lived it up. It felt awesome. I felt like a rockstar and was ‘Fargo Famous.’
“The problem, though, is that when you put yourself out there like that, people ask for help. And it humbled me big time. Because the local papers wanted to write about me, so I had to go do an interview, but then at the same time, one of the guys who just gotten out of jail called and asked if I could help him. And I could justify in my mind that I need to get (F5) out there more, or I could actually do what I said I was going to do.”
3. Martin credits a lot of F5’s success to his past sales experience.
Martin: “I applied a lot of for-profit thinking into the nonprofit world. Every industry I’ve come in contact with has people who say one thing and do another.
“There are crappy salespeople everywhere, but there are really good ones, too. And the really good ones do exactly what they say they’re going to do. So that’s what we do. When people call us, we answer. When people ask us for help, we provide solutions. When people need solutions, we custom-fit them.”
The Five Pillars of F5
- Healthy Socialization
4. He says his biggest competitor isn’t other organizations that do the same thing as his own.
Martin: “My biggest competitors are drug-dealers and people who don’t give a crap about our community. They would rather sell you dope than let you have a good life. Our prisons and jails are filled with drug addicts, not drug dealers. Because the addicts are the ones who have to run the dope, and they’re the ones who have to put in the time and the grunt work and the backpacks full of dope.”
5. Rethinking the landlord-tenant relationship has been a key driver of success for F5.
Martin: “There’s a lot of power in being a property manager or an owner. You can say who lives somewhere, and you can evict someone any time you want. A lot of these guys have evictions and felonies, so I thought, ‘I wonder what it would look like if we treated them like they didn’t? What if the property manager is the one who’s supposed to be providing the solution?’
“Instead of just showing up whenever there’s a problem with a dishwasher or to collect rent, why don’t we show up and see if there’s anything we can do for them? And go about it proactively. And it was crazy: 98 percent of the guys in the houses all of a sudden had jobs. A bunch of them were in recovery; a bunch of them were going to 12-step based meetings; and a lot of them were texting us every day just to let us know that they were doing okay.”
What Does F5 Mean, Anyway?
Commonly known as the function keys on a computer keyboard, F1 through F12 may have a variety of different uses, but F5 is special for one reason: It’s the refresh key. No matter what data you have on your computer screen, when you hit F5, it all gets deleted.
“This is really what any person with a (criminal) background wants,” says F5 Project Founder Adam Martin, “to start over, clean and refresh.”
6. There’s probably no one who can understand the felon experience as well as entrepreneurs, Martin says.
Martin: “Starting up your life without any investments and starting up a company without any seed money are very similar. You’re going to have to knock on doors; you’re going to have to fill out applications and grants — and with no data and no experience. It’s all the same.
“And when I talk to felons about that, they get it. When I try to pitch that to business owners, they have to really be brought through it to understand and remember what it was like when they started their company. You’re eating ramen. You have no money. You don’t know how you’re going to make it to the next week. Now imagine living like that for years.”
7. Martin: Many felons possess a number of unique and highly sought-after skills that can be applied to the workplace.
They’re unconventional thinkers.
Martin: “Their outside-the-box style of thinking and creativity are insane. It may not always be the ‘correct’ way to do something, but it gets done, and you don’t have to worry about it.”
Martin: “I know that if I go to any of our guys (at sister company F5 Ventures) and say, ‘I need you to knock on 10 doors and set up a meeting with someone to meet with one of our clients,’ they’ll leave that moment and go knock on 10 doors. They’re not prone to sit there and try to strategically research and figure out how to knock on the door or know what to say. Execution is king.”
They’re emotionally intelligent.
Martin: “I’ve come to believe that people who are formerly incarcerated are very high with emotional and social intelligence. They’re the guys you don’t want to play poker against. Because they can read you. Just imagine a guy who, for his whole life, grew up in juvenile detention and then had case managers, social workers, psychologists and now he’s in prison. (It’s a survival skill).”
They’re unafraid to fail.
Martin: “Every college kid or every person I’ve hired who hasn’t been locked up, I have to walk them through things, give them scripts, sometimes even teach them how to dial a phone. They’re afraid to fail. Whereas, us (felons), we’ve known nothing but failure.”
They’re great networkers.
Martin: “People who have grown up in institutions are constantly surrounded by people. In prison, you’re not ‘in the hole’ all the time; you’re around people. You have to learn how to adapt and talk to them.
“I have four guys who work for me on the (F5) Ventures side. I give them a list of phone numbers and say, ‘I need you to call these people and set up appointments for our clients to go do introductory meetings and go pitch their products.’ I walk away, and they’re already doing it.”
8. F5 is a great community investment.
Martin: “It’s anywhere from $40,000 – $77,000 a year to lock somebody up. We’re creating an investment that, when they come out of jail or prison, it saves insane amounts of money.
“The status quo is always: Have more beds available in the prisons and jails. Why? Because they’re forecasting it’s only going to get worse. Why? Because we don’t have the resources readily available to the people coming out. There are no re-entry programs. A guy gets out at 8 o’clock in the morning, gets put on a bus and gets sent to Fargo. Now what?
“It’s also why our homeless shelters are insanely packed because we’re having to fill them up for people who don’t need to be there. So what we’re doing is taking guys out of there who I think can do really well really fast if they have the right investments and letting the homeless shelters and detoxes and treatment centers focus on those high-priority maintenance people.”
Paying It Forward
While F5 residents don’t pay for housing or any of the services they receive, they are encouraged to “extend the grace” in other ways to the community. Here are a few examples. Many of them:
- Mentor new F5 residents
- Mentor juvenile delinquents
- Get involved with church or 12-step groups
- Start businesses
9. Martin believes felons are the missing piece to workplace development.
Martin: “This is the piece we’re missing in the workforce is guys with really high emotional intelligence who aren’t scared to fail. That’s the entrepreneur mindset. I would rather start a company with a guy who’s been formerly incarcerated any day of the week because I know things are going to get done.
“I was at Microsoft recently, and we talked about this with a group of people, how emotional intelligence is something they’re looking for because it’s not very high today like it used to be. Every person who’s not a felon that I’ve hired to do sales has quit. NDSU also brought me over to talk about how to be engaging to people. Because the common trend they’re seeing in the workforce is that you can no longer just let a college kid loose to go do their job because they need to have complete direction given to them: ‘Do this. Now do this. Now do this.'”
“I would rather start a company with a guy who’s been formerly incarcerated any day of the week because I know things are going to get done.”
10. Martin has one question for business owners when considering a felon for a job: What’s the worst that can happen?
Martin: “The first thing that I’d like to say is that if you had a bad experience with a felon, chances are it’s only been one, and you gave up. How many people who aren’t felons have you hired who have either lied or not shown up?
“Really question your thinking and your biases when it comes to people who have been formally incarcerated. Am I treating them the way I would anyone else, or am I completely blanketing a whole group of people?
“The second thing is: Do you think they’re ready? Ask them what they’ve done since they’ve gotten out of prison. Did they show up at your workplace first? Do they have identification? Are they ready for this? What are their charges? That’s a big one is: Do their charges have something to do with a daily activity they’d be doing?
“If you’re a bank, and you’re thinking of hiring a felon and he’s been charged with embezzlement, you might want to reconsider. If they’ve been in recovery or been out of prison for five years and they’ve built a good reputation of doing well financially, give ’em a chance. There’s nothing wrong with getting personal in an interview.”
- F5 Project House
- Lakes and Prairies Community Action Partnership
- Moorhead Public Housing
- Clay County Housing Authority
- Cass County Social and Family Services
- Clay County Social Services
- Fargo Housing and Redevelopment
- Southern ND Community Action Agency
- Wanzek Construction
- Solid Comfort
- Quality Concrete
- K + L Concrete
- Family Healthcare – Homeless Services
- Fargo Cass Public Health
- Planned Parenthood
- FM Good Neighbor Project
- Clay County Public Health
- Fargo VA Medical Center
- Veterans Justice Outreach
- Supported Employment for Veterans
- Personal Touch Management
- Danbury Office
- Goldmark Properties
If you’re a decision-maker at your business and are interested in joining the list of second-chance employers (see above) or just want to learn more about F5 Project or F5 Ventures, contact Adam Martin directly.
“I’ll take all the time in the world to walk you through the tax credits and walk you through why the felon in the Fargo-Moorhead area is the fastest way for our economy to continue to build, as long as we’re willing to take second chances on them,” Martin says.
Founder, F5 Project/F5 Ventures
Meet an F5 Guy: Mike Broadwell
Mike Broadwell says it was a “perfect storm of nothing” that led to him catching his case in 2011.
“I was in between jobs; in between girlfriends; in between cars, dogs and cats,” says Broadwell, who, at the time had recently moved from his native California to small-town Ashley, ND. “I was in between everything and didn’t have any attachments for the first time in my life.”
An altercation with some locals landed him a 10-year prison sentence, and when he got out early in August 2017 with nothing to his name and nowhere to go, it was F5 Project and Adam Martin that were his saving grace.
“I was walking out of the prison gates with a birth certificate and a social security card,” Broadwell says. “And a handful of prison t-shirts and underwear. And that was it. I had nothing. The day I got out of prison, Adam met me, picked me up, brought me to the house and got me in a room. They give you the opportunity to fix your life and the opportunity to network with other guys who are going through the same situation.”
Less than a year later, Broadwell has started his own business, Goodfellas Flooring; gotten his drivers license back; opened two bank accounts; is insured; and has his own vehicle.
“I’ve also re-established connection with at least three-quarters of my family,” he says, “people I’ve lost track of over the last 10 or 15 years.”
What Mike Says About F5
“With the opportunities and tools that F5 gives you, they’re not going to do it for you. You have to go out and do it yourself. I’m lucky to be alive and to be in the position I’m in right now, with people backing me and pulling for me. It all comes down to wanting it. That’s what F5 stresses. It’s up to you. We’re not going to help you any more than you want to help yourself, and all I can say is that I have so much loyalty and dedication for this organization because they’ve helped me help myself.”
Meet an F5 Guy: Matt Becker
When Matt Becker was in federal prison in Colorado a couple years ago, he had a realization.
“I was just like, ‘Man, I’m so tired of this,'” he recalls. “I’m spending my whole life in a box. Something’s gotta change, but I didn’t know what.
“So I started making an inventory of things in my life that were holding me back: No. 1 was my attitude. No. 2 was the people I hang around with. No. 3 was that I’d never really given myself a shot at doing the right thing.”
It was a moment of true self-reflection for the Fargo native who’d spent most of his 20s locked up, first for an armed robbery in West Fargo in 2009 and then for possession of a firearm a few years later.
When he got out the last time, he says he made up his mind that he was really going to change for good, even if it meant he had to wash dishes. He ended up getting a job washing trucks, and not long after, met Adam Martin through a mutual friend. After sitting down with him, he realized quickly that F5 was where he wanted to be.
Martin offered Becker an unpaid internship, an opportunity that he jumped at, despite the crazy hours it would require.
“I would sleep like 3 hours a day, but I was dedicated to it,” says Becker, who, after the internship, was able to quit the truck wash and came on full-time as a business development representative for F5 Project’s sister company, F5 Ventures. “I had in my head, ‘I’m going to do this. If I can dedicate my whole life to being a gangster and doing dumb stuff, I can dedicate some time to doing the right thing.’
“I’ve taken so much from the community. It’s only right to do what I can to give back.”
What Matt Says About F5
“F5 absolutely changed my life. It’s given me a purpose and a drive, and every single day, I get up and look forward to coming to work. If you would’ve told me a few years ago, ‘You’re gonna have an office job, and you’re gonna love it, and you’re gonna enjoy work and coworkers,’ I would’ve told you you were crazy. But I do. Every day, I love coming here; I love the people I work with; I love my bosses; I love what I do. It’s given me something to focus on in my life.”