The Fountain Fund Provides Loans to Former Inmates to Help Ease Debts

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David Payne is now an assistant manager at Jiffy Lube David Payne is now an assistant manager at Jiffy Lube
David Payne David Payne
Timothy Brown Timothy Brown
The Fountain Fund provides low-interest loans to former inmates The Fountain Fund provides low-interest loans to former inmates

A Charlottesville-based nonprofit is helping ex-convicts overcome the thousands of dollars some accumulate while they’re doing time.

The Fountain Fund is managed by a team that includes former prosecutors who put people behind bars but also see a system in need of reform.

Former U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy started The Fountain Fund in 2016 after learning from a man he prosecuted about the debt that added up while he was behind bars.

The fund says it's seeing life-changing returns from these low-interest loan investments.

David Payne is one such person who's received help from the fund. Though Payne is now an assistant manager at Jiffy Lube, it wasn't too long ago that he was living a different kind of hustle.

“I was out here, trying to live a street life, and I ended up getting myself in trouble selling drugs,” says Payne.

That life landed Payne in state and federal prisons.

“I just said, ‘I'm coming home this time, and I'm going to do what I'm supposed to do,’” says Payne. “I've been doing time since I was 17 years old. I've given them 27 years of my life.”

He quickly discovered that getting out from behind bars didn’t necessarily mean he was immediately free. He'd lost his driver's license pending payment of court costs and Department of Motor Vehicles fees.

“I rode the bus out here every day for 18 months,” says Payne. “Sometimes, it would take me two hours to get to work.”

The debt he’d accumulated while in jail totaled $5,000.

“I paid my debt to society,” says Payne. “I was wrong. I admit I was wrong for the things I'd done. I paid my debt. But, every time I turn around, it's like I'm being scrutinized for my past.”

Payne found a confidante in another assistant manager at Jiffy Lube.

“I came out, hit the ground running,” says Timothy Brown, an assistant manager at Jiffy Lube.

Like Payne, Brown had also faced thousands of dollars in debt after being released from jail.

“It was a little struggle,” says Brown. “I had to make payment arrangements here, payment arrangements there. I worked two jobs.”

Both men were able to manage their way out of debt with a little help from Carl Brown and The Fountain Fund.

“We're talking about individuals who want to take accountability,” says Carl Brown, the manager of The Fountain Fund. “They're in a situation where they need a little lift up.”

The nonprofit provides low-interest loans and financial counseling to former inmates with viable job prospects. The ideal loan candidate is someone who has a financial need from doing time, but also has a marketable skill that can help them jump over hurdles to more likely secure a job.

Nicole Snyder leads The Fountain Fund's team as the executive director after a career as a federal prosecutor.

“This, I'd say, is very much an effort to say some of us with experience in the criminal justice world want to make the system better,” says Snyder.

Since its founding in May 2017, the fund has given out nearly $60,000 in loans to 25 people.

These former inmates who receive a loan can use the money to do things like pay off debt that piled up during incarceration or help them start a small business.

“We become their partner in the journey, so we help them get their driver’s license back, we help them with job placement, we help them with pep talks every once in a while,” says Snyder. “Sometimes people just need someone to know they have someone in their corner.”

Snyder says, so far, everyone who's received a loan has been able to meet payments on time and they’re able to pay the money back in full.

“We want to be a step toward self-sufficiency,” says Snyder. “We don't want to be just another stop that they have to make along the way.”

Since these former inmates are already facing debts they're unable to pay off without help, the fund provides low-interest loans with a repayment rate at 5% interest. That money then goes back into the fund to help other former inmates in need of a helping hand.

“If you want to really see change, we need to look at individuals and be willing to give second chances,” says Carl Brown.

The Fountain Fund cleared the Jiffy Lube assistant managers of the debts they’d incurred while doing their time.

“From there, everything's opened,” says Timothy Brown. “It's like a new chapter in your life.”

Payne has experienced similar freedoms since receiving a loan.

“I got my license on Monday, and I bought that vehicle right there on Tuesday,” says Payne.

Payne credits the fund with giving him the confidence to hustle toward a better life for his family.

“I know with my mind, I can do anything I put my mind to, that's the way it goes,” says Payne. “I don't have limits.”

The Fountain Fund is expanding its reach by providing loans to people in Roanoke and Richmond and raising funds statewide. Snyder says fund directors are also receiving calls asking about the program from around the country.