RecycleForce: Recycling LIVES

By Scout Burnstine, Mario Giannini, Jared Winter

There is a recurring problem prominent in Indianapolis and in this nation as a whole. Each year, 732 out of every 100,000 individuals are incarcerated in Indianapolis according to the Indianapolis Business Journal. This is an issue spanning much further than merely condemning individuals to a lifetime of pain and struggle, but also prohibiting them from experiencing time with loved ones and fulfilling their passions. This is a lifelong sentence that will hold individuals accountable for a mistake that they’ve made when they were too young to fully understand the gravity of their actions. These people have become cogs in the system of mass incarceration that is plaguing our nation. It will continue until politicians and, more importantly, the workforce becomes more empathetic towards these individuals instead of harvesting them for any profit they can yield. After this, discarding them to fend for themselves with limited resources and a public taught to fear the sight of “felony” on any form of background check.

As this social issue has persisted over the span of the past several decades, there have been a variety of individuals and groups who have taken the initiative to attempt to implement their own social reintegration programs to offer previously incarcerated individuals a second opportunity at life. These social activists have placed their lives, their financials, and sometimes even their families on hold to seek out a solution. This mission is what acts as their motivation, and when it comes to Gregg Keesling and his family, they have taken it upon themselves to offer previously incarcerated individuals in the Indianapolis community a fighting chance to live out a life on their terms. In 1996, Gregg Keesling and his wife, Jannett, took on the daunting task of establishing a company that would help find these individuals locate jobs in the local community with a livable wage and empathetic management. Not satisfied with the work they were able to accomplish in this aspect, they sought a means to provide professional training and experience to these individuals to increase their versatility once they are able to attain a sustainable job.

RecycleForce was their solution. Partnering with Tom Gray in 2004, Keesling was able to make his vision a reality through a company that not only employed these previously incarcerated individuals, but also taught them the life skills needed to find a source of income that didn’t require for them to return to actions that led to their arrest in the first place. With a 70% recidivism rate in Indianapolis according to the Employment and Training Administration branch of the U.S. Department of Labor, previously incarcerated individuals lack access to the resources that they could use to support themselves once released. This percentage references those who are brought back into county penitentiaries due to trivial errors such as neglecting to update their home address or failing to report to a parole officer on time. These individuals are then sent back to jail for days, maybe weeks, to be assigned even stricter sanctions and be robbed of more time from their life.

Business Model

The business model of RecycleForce is quite simple. They directly hire previously incarcerated individuals who are referred to them and pay them the first Friday after their employment. Once brought onto the team, these employees are taught how to operate heavy machinery as warehouse personnel and acquire a variety of certifications they can utilize when looking for a job with a livable wage. 

The primary service that RecycleForce provides is electronic waste recycling. Operating with hundreds of contracts in the Indianapolis community, they collect electronic waste from discarded television sets to circuit boards out of dated medical equipment. Nick Reich, the Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for RecycleForce, expressed the benefit of being a social enterprise since they have the ability to operate according to their own set of standards by employing people to help build up their lives while they help earn RecycleForce the money reinvested in the employees. According to Reich, the company depends on the salvaged commodities that can be sold off these old pieces of electronics those profits amount to over 50% of the money placed back into the program. The remaining difference is made up of a variety of grants offered to them through the federal government ranging from community development to crime prevention.

The reintegration program that RecycleForce places their employees into lasts for 120 days as they earn their certifications, receive peer mentorship, attain interview coaching, and engage in group therapy sessions for their development. RecycleForce recycles that which society discards and doesn’t expect to find any value in whether that’s technology or people. Once the program is completed, Keys to Work, the for-profit partner company to RecycleForce, helps to find work opportunities for these individuals. From there, a new wave of recently released people is brought onto the team and the cycle can begin again.


The individuals who risk being trapped in the cycle of incarceration in Indianapolis is simply where RecycleForce got its start. By providing these individuals with the confidence in their self-worth and abilities, they are releasing hard working citizens back into society. According to a study performed by the EPA of RecycleForce and several other reintegration programs in 2013, for every $1 invested into RecycleForce, $1.20 of increased productivity and earnings are provided to the Indianapolis community. The difference in recidivism rates for those who go through the RecycleForce program and those simply released into society is a staggering 11%. 

Since their establishment in 2004, RecycleForce has served over 1,600 individuals and successfully placed them back into society. Their goal is far from being reached but having this knowledge to go forward and spread the mission of RecycleForce coupled with the passion for the lives of people offers you the opportunity to show your support for them in their quest to end this epidemic.