By his own estimate, Obie Chambers of Charlotte has launched at least eight businesses with varying degrees of success. But it wasn’t until his current venture that he landed smack on the pages of Forbes magazine.
Six months ago, Chambers was let out of a federal prison camp in Edgefield, S.C., and quickly started a company he calls The Exigency Group, which provides counseling services to people facing time behind bars.
Chambers said his company does not offer legal advice but seeks to help inmates and those facing prison time adjust to what he calls “a new reality.”
“These individuals have a lot of questions,” he said in a recent Shop Talk interview. “Where am I going? What is it going to be like? How do I tell my family? Everything from pre-conviction to sentencing to post conviction -- what we do is walk them through it and talk to them and let them know how things will be.”
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If this concept sounds oddly familiar, perhaps you’ve seen the comedy film “Get Hard,” which stars Will Ferrell as a millionaire businessman headed to San Quentin prison who hires a “prison coach” (Kevin Hart) to prep him for his anticipated hardships.
Chambers laughs at any comparison between him and the movie, yet he does acknowledge some similarities.
“The gist of it is, the guy needs a coach. He needs someone to tell him how to be hard and act a certain way because he’s going to prison,” Chambers said of the movie. “It’s within the realm, but they’ve hit it with a broad stroke and have taken a lot of liberties with it.”
When I first met Chambers in 2009, he and a partner had just closed a deal to purchase B&B Supply Company, a venerable firm that supplied drywall for the Hearst Tower, Gateway Village and countless Charlotte-area homes. They named their new business Maxxim Supply Inc.
Fast-forward to 2013 and Chambers is behind bars, convicted in a federal court of growing 3,000 marijuana plants inside a Charlotte warehouse. He entered a plea and, after much legal wrangling, was sentenced to 18 months, most of which he served in the Mecklenburg jail.
Chambers insists still that he had no plans for distributing the pot but was looking to “jump the gun” on what he thought would be the legalization of medical marijuana in North Carolina. (An R&D project, if you will.)
Whatever the case, Chamber said he found himself in jail meeting other inmates who were ill-prepared for what they were about to encounter. And just like that, a business idea took root.
His clients, he said, range from white-collar criminals to drug dealers. Chambers said he even reached out to Patrick Cannon, the former Charlotte mayor, shortly after Cannon was arrested on public corruption charges, although Chambers says Cannon did not end up being a client.
In addition to himself, Chambers said The Exigency Group also includes other ex-inmates and a former employee of the federal Bureau of Prisons.
As for regrets, Chambers said he has plenty.
“I regret any time I allowed my decision-making to get me into a place that wasn’t what I was always about,” he said. “You can’t take things back in life and turn back the clock, but what you can do is learn from your mistakes and help others.”
Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of Qcitymetro.com, an online news site targeting Charlotte’s African-American community. He is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Charlotte Observer business editor.