Driving to prison: Harrisburg man starts own business
Nate Holmes is a full-time teacher, husband and father of an 8-month-old boy.
But he wanted something more, something to build off his mother’s legacy. Stephanie Jenkins ran a nonprofit ministry in Harrisburg that focused on improving the lives of prison inmates.
Holmes, 34, who still lives in the city, decided to start Building Bridges Transportation LLC. The business offers paid rides to every state and federal prison in Pennsylvania.
“The consensus is the service is definitely needed,” said Holmes, who teaches at River Rock Academy in Carlisle. “A lot of times the inmates are the forgotten people. Once you go behind the wall, life goes on on the outside.”
Holmes has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Penn State Harrisburg and a master’s degree in organizational development and leadership from Shippensburg University. He invested $15,000 into the business startup, much of it from a business loan by Members 1st Federal Credit Union.
“With our business, the overhead was pretty low, because all we need is the vehicle,” said Holmes, who required approval from the state Department of Corrections to offer the service.
A 12-seat passenger van provides the transportation, and insurance ate up a good deal of the initial expense. Holmes said he communicates with customers via Facebook and Twitter on the ride schedule. All trips are done on Saturdays and Sundays, with Holmes behind the wheel. Building Bridges is licensed by the Public Utilities Commission.
“We have a rotating schedule and every prison is assigned a date,” he said. “Our schedule rotates every 90 days.”
Trip fees range from $45 for a trip to Frackville prison in Schuylkill County, to $170 for a trip to Albion prison near Erie.
Holmes picks riders up at their door, and prison visits last about four-and-a-half hours. Since the vehicle is a van, no special driver’s license is required, he noted.
The van is air conditioned and equipped with satellite radio. There is no minimum number of riders to make a trip.
“We try to make it as comfortable and easy as possible for the rider,” he said. ”We do trips for one rider. It is a business, but we have to keep in mind the trip is important for the rider.”
Holmes frequently participates in area events to get the word out about Building Bridges. He would like to move beyond prison visits to other transportation agreements with area nonprofits. Holmes said he wants the business to provide needed community ride services.
“We really would like to bridge the gap any way that we can,” he said.