ConCreates: A Stigma Breaking Agency

Vincent Bragg served five years, one month, and 22 days in federal prison on drug charges. In that time, he studied corporate and real estate law and read more than 400 books.

He also started a creative ad agency.

Today, though, marks the official launch of ConCreates, a creative shop staffed entirely by men and women who have been, or are currently, incarcerated, with an overall goal to challenge the stigma society so often applies to people with criminal histories. The agency operates on a crowdsourcing model, tapping into a network of 436 men and women currently behind bars, and 319 former prisoners on the outside, for skills depending on the work needed.

“We built a creative network based on certain individual skill sets,” says Bragg. “Where most might see a bank robber, we see a strategist.”

“Our mission is to challenge the stigma of how society views people with a criminal history, as well as how people with a criminal history view themselves,” says Bragg, who cofounded ConCreates with Janeya Griffin. “If we’re able to show them they’re not just a bank robber, or not just a drug dealer, that they have creative potential, then we can show them an opportunity to take a new career path.”

The original idea for ConCreates came to Bragg while serving time. While in prison, ConCreates contributor Joe Nickson consulted with MeUndies cofounder Jonathan Shokrian on a few campaigns. “We were able to give that founder some ideas that took his company from doing $50,000 in sales a month to $934,000 with only two campaigns,” says Bragg. “That was the birth of ConCreates.”

When he was released from prison on March 1, 2016, Bragg enlisted in the entrepreneurship program at Defy Ventures, an organization that works to help steer currently and formerly incarcerated men, women, and youth toward the creation of legal business ventures and careers. Through that program, he met Tim Jones, executive strategy director at 72andSunny New York, an agency that works with such brands as Smirnoff, Samsung, Facebook, Seventh Generation, and more.

What really impressed Jones was how ConCreates wasn’t just about helping former inmates successfully reintegrate with society but taking it a step further and actually using the skills that may have landed them in prison and aiming them at a different outcome. “That was the real light bulb for me,” says Jones. “That criminality is often just creativity without opportunity. We don’t think one mistake should define a human lifetime. We think there is this raw creative force that resides in prison today. How do we help that become a positive force for society and for those locked up?”

The best phone calls Bragg has are with prisoners who have seen an avenue for their talents beyond crime. “Some of them think this is all they can ever do, and it’s all they know,” says Bragg. “It’s really powerful to give these individuals the idea that their skills are useful.”

Why it’s hot:

According to a 2018 report from Prison Policy, the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people is more than 27%. ConCreates is seeking to give former prisoners a second chance in life by using their talents in a positive way.