“Write your goals where you can see them every day, you can’t hit a target that you can’t see”: now I have a white board in my room with my next steps written down every day I can see the plan and am motivated to execute these next steps to achieve my goals on a daily basis.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Evelyn LaChapelle, Community Engagement Manager of Vertosa.
Oakland, CA native Evelyn LaChapelle is an experienced events coordinator and community liaison, who is now utilizing her professional position within the legal cannabis industry to advocate for restorative justice. She is an active member of the Last Prisoner Project, dedicated to redressing the past and continuing harms caused by the war on cannabis through clemency and reentry programs.
Evelyn has been impacted by the War on Drugs firsthand: in 2013, the Loyola Marymount University graduate and mother of a four-year-old daughter was convicted on three charges related to her minor role in a marijuana distribution operation. She was sentenced to 87 months in prison. She had no prior record, nor any indicators that she was a repeat offender. On February 1, 2019, she was released from federal custody and began her 4-year probation sentence, during which she was hired as a sales and catering coordinator for a prominent hotel, but then subsequently fired after a co-worker searched her name and found her convictions.
Evelyn has overcome these challenges and found success in the legal cannabis industry through her work at cannabis and hemp infusion technology company Vertosa, where she manages all public and industry events. Evelyn also spearheads Vertosa’s partnership with the Last Prisoner Project, among additional non-profit organizations advocating for social justice and equity within the cannabis industry.
Through community engagement, Evelyn works to create a more transparent and accessible industry that encourages minorities to penetrate all aspects of the business, including in the labs and the executive offices. She has also made it her goal to create a real second chance for men and women being released from prison through her work with both Vertosa and the Last Prisoner Project.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Mycareer path has been unconventional for sure. My background is actually in Business Administration and Entrepreneurship, for which I have a B.A. from Loyola Marymount University, as well as in Sales & Events. But I landed in the cannabis industry in 2009 when I deposited the profits of cannabis sales into my bank account. In 2013 I was convicted in a federal court because of those deposits and I received an 87-month sentence for the conspiracy to distribute with the intent to sell cannabis on the unregulated market. I was released in February 2019 after serving 5 years. I had become passionate about helping to correct the systemic injustices that sent me to prison for business dealings with a product that has become a multi-billion dollar legal industry, so I started working with and became an advocate on behalf of the Last Prisoner Project, which is committed to freeing every last prisoner of the unjust war on drugs, starting with 40,000 people in prison for cannabis offenses legal in most states.
In November 2019 at a fundraising event for Last Prisoner Project I met the CEO and VP of Vertosa, Ben Larson and Austin Stevenson (now Chief Innovation Officer), and was hired as their Community Engagement Manager. I never imagined finding a place in the same industry that I had just spent years in prison for. It has been both infuriating and liberating. And I’m proud to work for a company that has been committed to social and restorative justice in the cannabis industry nearly since its inception. Vertosa also takes great strides to normalize cannabis in the public eyes and educate people. With that in mind, they’ve launched several series on YouTube and IGTV, including the interview series I host called The Heart of Cannabis on IGTV.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Building a platform in the legal cannabis industry as a Black, formerly incarcerated woman is disruptive in itself. Our government has used cannabis to systematically remove Black and Brown people from the industry. 40,000 people remain incarcerated for non-violent cannabis offenses and many more remain on probation or with felonies on their records that prevent them from even coming in contact with the plant. The same plant that was just deemed essential during a global pandemic is still being used to keep People of Color in fear of the plant. I am still very much afraid of the plant and navigate this industry as far from it as possible That shouldn’t be a fear for anyone, so the work that I do for LPP and Vertosa is with the intention to help push this industry forward and hopefully play a part in removing this fear.
In addition to fundraising initiatives with LPP, additional ways Vertosa is advocating for social change in the industry is by teaming up with more like-minded, nonprofit organizations including This is Our Dream and Cannabis for Black Lives. For This is Our Dream, Vertosa team members have signed up to be mentors for disproportionately impacted and targeted communities of the war on drugs (i.e. refugees, immigrants, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community) who are interested in entering the cannabis industry. We are also offering educational courses as part of the This is Our Dream Academy. And for Cannabis for Black Lives, Vertosa has committed to donating a percentage of our revenue for the next three quarters to three different organizations and/or initiatives supported by Cannabis for Black Lives. The first of which is Supernova Women, an Oakland California-based non-profit organization with a mission to empower people of color to become self-sufficient shareholders in the cannabis industry.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Pumping too much CBD into my morning coffee and realizing shortly after that I was way too relaxed to get any work done. I just looked around thinking to myself “how could anybody be getting any work done’. I learned that one pump was enough for me.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I have had great mentors in this industry. I am surrounded by many people who want to see me win. The most memorable and impactful would be a sit down that I had with Sysamone Phaphon, Vertosa’s head of growth. During my first quarterly review she asked how she could help me build my personal career path. I had never been asked that in a review; most companies are asking how we as employees can help build their business. Sysamone in that meeting shifted the way I looked at work. She made it clear that she was there to help me build as an individual and that in turn has elevated the way I show up to work.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
The entire industry of cannabis has been disruptive on many levels. Vertosa creating a way for the cannabis-infused beverage industry to flourish was a disruption to the market, but a positive one in the sense that we are creating a new way for people to consume and developing a more user-friendly method for consumers new to cannabis.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
“Write your goals where you can see them every day, you can’t hit a target that you can’t see”: now I have a whiteboard in my room with my next steps written down every day I can see the plan and am motivated to execute these next steps to achieve my goals on a daily basis.
“You’re competing with yourself:” I am my only opponent. When I set out for the day I am only striving to be a better me, not someone else. This advice has really helped me to stay in my own lane.
“Tell your story and love yourself while you’re telling it:” its piece of advice came from listening to the research professor and author Brene Brown and it changed my entire perspective on who I was. I could tell my story and feel shame, and embarrassment, or I could choose to love myself. In choosing to love myself through the story-telling I have begun to heal from the traumas and validate my existence. It’s a completely liberating concept to love yourself.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
Building my own brand of cannabis accessories called Eighty-Seven. “Eighty-Seven” represents the 87-month prison sentence I received for profiting from traditional cannabis sales. I plan to build this brand as a reminder to the industry that those of us who have been criminalized and disenfranchised have a place in this industry.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Women disruptors if they have children are faced with the guilt of not being available 100 percent of the time, especially in the world of COVID-19 where many area working from home with children learning remotely. I do not take away from the struggles of a father but building a career as a woman from home while also now being forced into the role of home school teacher is stressful. But when I express my frustrations, I feel guilty for complaining. I imagine I’m not alone.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
I can not get any work done without my podcast playing in my ears. It helps me stay focused. I rotate between my three favorites. “Elevation with Steven Furtick” gives me my much needed daily inspiration. The message is always a blessing and sets the tone for my day as a reminder that I am not in this alone.
“The Steve Harvey Morning Show” is inspiration and entertainment. I’m caught laughing out loud at my desk all of the time listening to this podcast. I’m smiling just thinking about it. For a dose of culture, I listen to “Expeditiously with T.I Harris” All of these podcasts feed my soul and without them I am sure I would be a lot less productive.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would inspire a movement of knowledge for our black youth. I believe it is important for a person to know where they came from, but for our youth that knowledge and understanding was cut off because of slavery. Most of us cannot trace our ancestry beyond the southern borders of this country. I would like to start a program where the kids can trace their ancestry to their country of origin. Then spend time learning about that country and implementing some horticulture to explore the importance of both literal and figurative roots. This is my dream. I hope I trigger some readers to help make it happen.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
From the book “The Four Agreements” I picked up a life lesson I hope to never forget: “don’t take it personal.” Learning that the actions of others towards me is not a reflection of me, but rather of them, allowed me to grow beyond the boundaries of what other people think. For an example of how this impacted my life, I had a husband who was compulsively unfaithful, and I took all of that very personally. As if his infidelity was a personal attack against me and that I had somehow caused it or didn’t do enough to prevent it. I was at war with myself and remained in that war until I realized his behavior was not a reflection of me but of him. When I stopped taking it personally, I left. It is the same for a rude boss or an enraged driver. That is their issue, not mine.
How can our readers follow you online?
Please follow Vertosa on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @VertosaInc. You can also find me on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/evelyn-lachapelle-6417b8177/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!