An Examination of the Power of the Dark Side of Entrepreneurship

Topics: Entrepreneurship, Prison, Entrepreneur Pages: 12 (2963 words) Published: February 5, 2012

Frank S. Lockwood, Western Carolina University
Russell Teasley, North Georgia College and State University
JoAnn C. Carland, Western Carolina University
James W. Carland, Western Carolina University


"Never underestimate the power of the Dark Side!" Luke Skywalker learned that lesson well in a galaxy far, far away and long, long ago, but modern entrepreneurship theorists may be less well informed than the characters in Star Wars. Like the “Force,” Entrepreneurship is a tremendous power for good. But, like the “Force,” Entrepreneurship does have a Dark Side and it is powerful, indeed.

With rare exceptions, the literature about entrepreneurship is positive and supportive and implies that uniform benefits accrue to the economy, to businesses, and to individuals as a result of entrepreneurship. This is only half the story. A small number of researchers have examined the dysfunctional aspects of entrepreneurship and pointed out that a Dark Side definitely exists (Kets de Vries, 1985; Solomon & Winslow, 1988; Winslow & Solomon, 1987; 1989).

This paper will look at those who turned to the Dark Side for their very existence. The authors have surveyed prisoners who have been convicted of a felony and who are serving sentences in a Federal Prison in the Midwest. The participants were enrolled in a continuing education course involving entrepreneurship and small business startup ideas and they all espoused a desire to “go straight” when their sentences had been served. How did they become criminals? Did they view their criminal activities as entrepreneurial ventures? Will they become legitimate entrepreneurs in the future? Can entrepreneurship education alleviate the problems faced by these offenders when released and is there a greater or lesser chance of recidivism when these inmates are given the opportunity to study entrepreneurship while still incarcerated? If they exist, are Dark Side Entrepreneurs different from main stream Entrepreneurs? These were the questions which drove our research.


A major problem facing society today is the impact that the growing number of inmates serving sentences have on the economic vitality of our nation. The problem has been exacerbated because our jails are not only filled with first time-offenders but with a large population of repeat offenders, those returned to prison because they were unable to maintain a crime-free lifestyle after being released. According to the Bureau of Justice (2000), in the United States released prisoners were re-arrested at an average rate that was greater than 60%. The high percentage of re-arrested former prisoners is a clear indication that just serving one’s sentence is not a deterrent to committing more criminal acts. The economic cost to society and to those directly affected by criminal activity is tremendous. According to the Bureau of Justice (2000), one of every fifteen people in the U.S. will be incarcerated. That figure is staggering. During the past 25 years, the penal system in the United States has implemented a strategy of “lock ‘em up and throw away the key.” As a result, there has been an unprecedented growth in the prison population in the number of incarcerated inmates even though the crime rate has been decreasing. Further exacerbating the situation is that incredibly high rate of recidivism.

According to the Three State Recidivism Study (Steurer, Smith, and Tracy, 2001) released inmates reported that less than half had a job awaiting them after they were freed from prison. While most (about 87% of those who had received training while in prison and 83% of those who did not participate in training) believed that they had a place to stay after they were released, the remainder were released as homeless, left to roam the streets, mostly in urban areas.

The economic cost of incarceration and the cost to society of...
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