Marquis Mckenzie Sr. is an example of not allowing your bad past to determine your future. The 32-year-old dropped out of school when he was only 15 years old and began hanging out with older people who were “living the street life.”
About a year after dropping out of school, he was sentenced to 24 months in prison and four years probation for armed robbery despite not having any previous offenses.
“The only thing I can remember is my mom crying in the courtroom and begging the judge to please… give me a second chance,” he recalled in an interview with CNBC Make It. “The only thing that the judge would say is, ‘I’m sorry, this case is out of my hands.'”
While in prison, he witnessed constant fights and stabbings happening around him. He was lucky enough to be reassigned as “houseman,” which involved cleaning the dorm. For six months in his role, his dorm was ranked as the cleanest. In his quest to strive for the best, he earned his GED during his time in prison and had dreams of becoming an educator.
He was released in 2008 after serving his sentence and served two years of his probation sentence until it ended early due to his good behavior. Mckenzie credited his family for helping to transform his life. “My family told me that I didn’t have to go anywhere or rush to try to figure things out, but just don’t procrastinate,” he said.
However, his quest to make a decent living faced several challenges as many companies were not prepared to hire him due to his prison record. In response, he decided to become his own boss and through hard work, he was able to build a successful business. His work as a houseman while in prison inspired him to start a cleaning business after he was released.
“If I can clean in here for free and get this recognition here, how hard would it be for me to go out clean?” he asked. “I knew that the properties and buildings that I was going to clean weren’t going to be as dirty as the prison. So, I figured that I found my niche right then and there.”
He started The Dirt Master in 2015 and it later became a Limited Liability Corporation in 2018. According to CNBC Make It, the company brought in $92,000 in profit last year. The platform also added that he makes $150,000 a year between running his commercial cleaning business in Orlando, Florida, and working at the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, an organization fighting to restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated people.
Having found himself in prison and reforming to fit into society, Mckenzie hires ex-prison inmates to clean various commercial office spaces in the greater Orlando area. The father of three said his decision is based on the fact that everyone deserves a second chance and he believes opening his doors to ex-convicts will help them avoid going back to prison.
“We have to think about giving opportunities to those who are coming out of the criminal justice system, so they don’t go back out and commit more crimes,” he said.