Dear Friends,

We are delighted to announce that Tony Mayer has joined PEP as our Chief Development Officer! Tony joins us from a long and successful business career in the risk and insurance industry, where he has worked with energy and marine clients for more than 30 years, originally with Marsh and later with Arthur J. Gallagher.

He has also served the non-profit and ministry world as a board member and employee, most recently with our good friends at The WorkFaith Connection, where he was a board member before joining the staff to expand relationships with local employers. In addition, he has served as Chairman of the Board of the Houston Speech and Hearing Clinic, and on the board of Archway Academy in Houston. He continues as a board member of The Barnabas Group Houston (helping men and women match their passions and gifts with service in a ministry), serves as a small group leader and Stephen Minister at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church, and as a volunteer with Faithwalking.

Tony will be based in our Houston office and his first full day on the job was Monday, May 11!

We are also proud to announce that we filled our Executive Relations Manager position in Houston! Charles Hearne is a class XVII graduate of PEP who finished second in the Business Plan Competition and was voted “Mr. Excellence” by his classmates. He was released in May of 2013 in Dallas, Texas.

About three weeks after release, Charles began his role as Development Associate for PEP, where he also managed Covington House, one of PEP’s transitional homes in Houston. He served in this capacity for two years before being promoted this month to the rank of Executive Relations Manager!

In addition to working at PEP, Charles is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in finance. He has been named to both the Honor’s List and the Dean’s List for his academic achievements. He has also recently been inducted into both the National Society of Collegiate Scholars (NSCS) and Phi Theta Kappa.

Join us in welcoming both Tony and Charles to their new roles at PEP!

A Wall Street Journal article suggests paying private jail operators the same as state facilities, but giving them incentives to lower recidivism rates. Read the full story here.

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America spends a lot of money locking up a lot of people. Understandably, legislators are trying to find ways of cutting prison costs without increasing crime rates. One tactic legislators increasingly rely on to manage costs is private prisons. Research from the Sentencing Project shows that, between 1999 and 2010, the share of U.S. prisoners housed in private prisons grew by more than 50%. What those prisons need, however, is an incentive to do better than public institutions—and a hint from a successful part of the U.S. education system.

Legislators are right to harness the power of market incentives to reduce costs. Given the right economic incentives, the private sector can be more efficient and creative than government.

Yet private prisons are failing to do the two things they should do best: reducing costs and recidivism rates. Research from Yale University has shown that, after controlling for demographics and the type of crime committed, private prisons have higher recidivism rates than government-run prisons. Research from the University of Wisconsin has also shown that, compared with publicly operated prisons, private-prison inmates serve a larger fraction of their sentences and are more likely to receive an infraction for poor behavior that can prolong their prison stay.

While the Wisconsin research didn’t pinpoint the source of the increased infractions, there are two reasons private prisons have higher infractions. First, private prisons earn more revenue when inmates serve more of their sentence. Second, private prisons’ cost-cutting measures—such as reduced staffing and more cramped quarters—lead to more violence among inmates.

Above all, private prisons have worse outcomes because of current economic incentives. At present their performance is measured exclusively by how little they spend per prisoner day. There is no incentive to reduce recidivism rates—even though less recidivism means both lower crime rates and lower costs to taxpayers. High recidivism rates ensure private prisons a stable and growing stream of future “customers.”

Because of these incentives, private-prison operators provide little job training to inmates and their cost-cutting often reduces inmates’ contacts with their families. For instance, some creative private prisons even require prisoners to pay as much as $1 per minute for video conference calls with families instead of permitting face-to-face visitation. This even though job training and maintaining ties with families are known to reduce recidivism.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The key is to structure private-prison compensation as a function of outcomes. If a prison underperforms on recidivism rates relative to government counterparts, the prison should receive a smaller share of inmates or be shut down. It may even be possible to make the contract between the fiscal authority and the private-prison operator explicitly dependent on recidivism rates. Providing such incentives will ensure that private prisons use evidence-based best practices—such as providing job training and maintaining connections to family—and encourage private prisons to experiment with new ways of reducing recidivism.

The model of charter schools is a good way to start rethinking private prisons. Charter schools in most states receive the same public funding per student as publicly-run schools, but charters are free to experiment with how best to use that funding to educate students according to the state curriculum.

While research is mixed about whether the average charter school outperforms traditional public schools, studies that focus on charter schools in high demand that must use lotteries to allocate slots have shown that the top charter schools vastly outperform traditional public schools on value-added measures. Successful charter schools, such as KIPP, Harlem Success Academy, and BASIS, thrive financially and are often able to establish several branches based on their reputations.

Private prisons should receive the same funding from the government per prison sentence as public prisons do. Private-prison operators should then be free to use the money to best reduce recidivism rates. Successful private-prison operators could receive more “customers” as they show legislators that their techniques work to reduce overall costs and crime rates.

Charter prisons aren’t a panacea to America’s prison problem. But shouldn’t we make sure that the incentives we provide give the market solution the best shot?

PEP was just profiled by Acton Institute, a nonprofit research organization dedicated to the study of free-market economics informed by religious faith and moral absolutes. The full story can be found here.

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Shortly after the day’s guests arrive at the East Texas prison, and well before they begin to mix with the inmates, they hear a low rumbling noise in the distance. As they make their way closer to the prison gymnasium, the low rumbling grows into a constant and thunderous clamor. For those making their first visit to the Cleveland Correctional Center, located 45 minutes north of Houston, the roar of the inmates’ husky voices is disconcerting—maybe even intimidating—as they wonder what awaits them. The energy inside the prison is relentless, almost palpable. When the doors swing open to the gymnasium, the day’s guests walk single file through a sea of shouting inmates. One hundred and twenty-six prisoners to be exact.

But this is no angry riot. This is a victory celebration.Visitors are greeted with deafening applause and pats on the back from the inmates as they walk through what can only be described as a celebratory hand-slapping gauntlet.

The fist-pumping reception sets the tone for the day in what feels like a pep rally. It signifies that something behind the bars of the 520-inmate prison, indeed within the hearts of many of its prisoners, has changed.

Welcome to “pitch day,” where inmates practice and prepare for an upcoming business plan competition managed by the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), a Houston-based nonprofit that turns incarcerated men into aspiring business owners.

During this important dress rehearsal as they prepare for their final examination, inmates receive feedback from mostly local business leaders. At a later date, the men in the program deliver a 30-minute oral business plan presentation to a judging panel of business executives and venture capitalists from across the nation. But before inmates make it this far, they must successfully complete PEP’s three-month character development program called Leadership Academy. Then they move into PEP’s core program, the six-month business plan competition that leads to a Certificate in Entrepreneurship from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business.

Jay Wall, a Houston-area real estate developer, says the program “is all about changing the trajectory for these young men.” They can succeed and fairly quickly. “They just need to be willing to listen,” Wall says. “We come here because we want to help, and we believe in what is going on inside these walls.”

Bert Smith, CEO of the PEP program, begins the day by bringing the people in the gymnasium to silence. He speaks about Gideon, an Israelite judge, and the amen choruses from the assembled prisoners begin. “I have always thought of Gideon as a hero, but when God came looking for a leader, Gideon’s response was, why me?” Smith tells them. Gideon, who thought of himself as nothing special, is a reminder to those assembled that he was divinely selected to free the Lord’s people. Before I even arrive at Cleveland Correctional, Smith tells me that PEP doesn’t really do ministry at the 40-acre minimum security prison. “It’s not a faith-based program,” he declares. But coming inside these walls makes me think of the celebration of the Prodigal Son’s return in Luke’s Gospel, which is clearly a picture of the embrace believers can expect from their heavenly Father. Several times during the day Smith jokes with volunteers and inmates that the prison is “our own private gated community.” He tells the visitors, “Whoever came in here looking for caged animals will be sorely disappointed.”

Smith will lead and help instruct prisoners on pitching their entrepreneurial ideas and start-ups to the “venture panels.” Smith describes it as something akin to the hit television show “Shark Tank.” He tells me the inmates, in putting together their business plans, become virtual experts in important concepts, such as what competitive advantage their start-ups bring to the marketplace. Inmates are critiqued fairly, but with little patronizing or sympathy for their plight.

The program, which launched in 2004, addresses the huge need for positive reintegration of convicts into productive civilian life. When most inmates are released, they can’t find a job. A felony conviction is devastating in any job market. Almost 75 percent of PEP graduates are employed within 30 days of release, and 100 percent are employed within 90 days. Many inmates choose to live in transition homes provided by the program when they are released so they are fully plugged into a community and network that provides opportunities to succeed. The program’s three-year success rate is as high as 95 percent. In 2013, Baylor University determined that PEP delivers a 340 percent return on investment for every dollar donated to the program.

PEP also boasts of a low recidivism rate. After three years, less than six percent of PEP graduates are repeat offenders, compared to 23 percent of non-PEP graduates. To be eligible for the program inmates must not be incarcerated for a sex crime, must be within three years of release, and must possess a high school diploma or GED, all while making a commitment to change.

Natalie Baker, executive relations manager for PEP, oversees an ice breaker exercise that helps inmates and visitors connect. She lines up prisoners and volunteers face-to-face. The two groups take a step forward if they have something in common, such as coming from a broken home, experiencing a history of being incarcerated, or having used illegal drugs. For the most part, the similarities are evident. The exercise is a reminder to inmates that success is not out of their reach and to volunteers that the inmates aren’t unlike them.

Baker, who has a law degree and MBA, spent four years in prison when she seriously injured two motorists while driving drunk in Florida. She admits her transition out of prison was much more difficult than her actual incarceration. Baker was harassed and turned down for jobs despite holding two advanced degrees.

Otis Rogers, a 33-year-old inmate from Cleveland, Mississippi, was apprehended while transporting drugs from Texas to his home state. Rogers says the PEP program has been critical for pointing out the flaws in his character. “It’s a great program, and I really like it,” he told me. Rogers pitches the idea of a barbershop named “Picture Perfect Haircuts,” which would also specialize as a dry cleaning service. The business panelists who review his pitch aggressively challenge the notion of a joint barbershop and dry cleaning shop, suggesting Rogers commit to one or the other.

Being from out of state, Rogers’s story differs a little than some of the others in the program. When I caught up with him later in the day he says he is due to be released later this summer. He seems unsure as to whether he will open a barbershop and appears more excited about an opportunity in Mississippi working as a truck driver, a job he previously held. “I will be released before the graduation day from this program, but I plan on coming back with some of my family for the ceremony,” says Rogers.

Thirty-four-year-old Stevon Harris pitches the idea of a welding business, an industry in which he seems to have considerable experience and skill despite initially seeming a little shy or unsure of himself.

Inmates in PEP are given “sweet names” to help shed former gang nicknames and their rough reputation. Harris is also known as “Chris Tucker,” presumably named after the Hollywood actor and comedian. He says the program has taught him character, self-discipline, and brotherhood. “It really took the people around me in PEP to bring certain issues to my attention,” he says.

Character assessments are a big part of PEP, and most of the inmates I talk with admit this is the most challenging part of the program. One inmate describes it as akin to standing in front of a mirror all day while others give you constant correction. Another inmate says it’s essential because “you need to have somebody covering your blind spot.” Inmates are confronted with their faults and what they need to do to not only make changes but also be held accountable for their words and actions.

I ask Harris, who is scheduled for release in 2017, if the program is what he expected, and he freely admits it is a lot different. “Honestly, at first, I was looking for something that I thought was going to be much easier and a handout,” he says. “But through PEP now I can visualize my own business plan, and I see others who are released from here but come back to share their success stories.” Eligible inmates from all over Texas can apply for a transfer to the Cleveland facility for the program. Not all who apply will be admitted.

I question a 40-year-old inmate from South Texas about the ones that drop out, a topic I haven’t seen addressed in any of the media coverage or PEP testimonials. “A lot of people do leave the program,” he confides. “They simply can’t handle the homework, and there is a lot of after-hours work and preparation they are not willing to embrace.”

The business plan competition requires 1,000 hours of classroom time over six months. That works out to several hours of homework per night. Inmates study college textbooks and read novels like “Crime and Punishment,” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

One of the best and most animated venture plans comes from a young and very personable inmate named Joshua Moore. He looks younger than his 30 years, and he tells me he was sent to prison for bringing drugs into a school zone. “I’ve seen some people come out of prison like a broken down Vietnam War vet,” Moore says. “I didn’t want to live like that. That’s why I got involved in the PEP program.”

Moore’s “sweet name” is Marvin the Martian, and his business is “Ooh-La-La Auto Spa.” He even has a jingle ready for the pitch and has clearly thought extensively about how to market the auto cleaning and detailing business. The competition judges give him largely positive feedback and offer further suggestions such as tips for servicing vehicles while clients are at work. The name of the business, with its sexual overtones, is catchy. And after Moore’s presentation, I am fairly convinced it has a legitimate chance at success in part because I can’t help but be drawn in by the infectious personality of the “Ooh-La-La” mastermind.

Moore, who writes me a short letter along with some of the other inmates after my visit, personalizes his note with something I told him about my life and our conversations at the facility. Some of these guys really know how to network.

Joshua McComas, 27, says his favorite part of the program is the way volunteers come inside to give entrepreneurial instruction and critique. “The effort these volunteers put fort is important for us,” he says. “That feedback is essential, and I actually use it to improve myself. I mean, all these people come in and smile at us, and my own family won’t even smile at me.” McComas says PEP “is actually going to give me a chance to support my family.” He talks about vowing to “have something of substance to show my son, once my son allows me back into his life.”

It is easy to forget you are inside a prison while attending a PEP event, but in the afternoon we are interrupted several times by guards for inmate roll call. The steady interruptions seem a little out of the ordinary, even for prison. While there is no violence at Cleveland Correctional while I am there, I find out later that day that a serious prison riot broke out at the Willacy County Correctional Facility near Harlingen, along the border with Mexico.

After more inmates are grilled on their business plans, state regulatory laws, and start-up costs, everybody settles back into the gymnasium for a celebration, testimonials, and dancing. Volunteers who are first-time visitors to the program are required to dance for whooping inmates and offer up their own testimonial of the day’s experience.

A PEP skeptic might feel like some elements are carefully choreographed for maximum buy-in and emotion. But it’s hard to argue with the authenticity of many of the inmates and the entrepreneurial skills and knowledge that have been ingrained in more than 100 participants. PEP’s successful statistics are not going unnoticed by politicians either. Texas’s senior U.S. Senator John Cornyn lavishes the program with praise, saying it is “reforming lives” and “strengthening Texas communities.” There are plans to expand the program in Texas and possibly across the nation.

There’s a common feeling that many of the inmates have been changed more by the character assessment side of the program, rather than the rigorous academic work required to participate and graduate from PEP. It’s clear that inmates understand that if they are going to receive a shot at redemption, it will require much more than entrepreneurial and financial success. Many, but not all, speak freely and openly about their Christian faith and credit that for their transformation and success.

At the end of what could be described as a prison revival, Smith shouts to the assembled, “These men are determined not to let past outcomes determine the future.” This reminds me of something similar written by the Apostle Paul, when he was hopelessly wrapped in chains. He told the Church at Philippi, “What has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.”

Those released from prison face an uphill battle, especially in the employment arena. Read on to learn more about a proposed bill that aims to level the playing field for felons in the hiring process. The story, published by the Houston Chronicle, can be found here.
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The “box” asking about a criminal conviction is one most of us mindlessly check on employment applications. But for many otherwise employable adults, it’s the biggest barrier to moving forward with productive lives.

Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, introduced a bill this legislative session that would prevent state agencies from asking about an applicant’s criminal background until the interview stage. The proposal is in line with a national trend that has strong bipartisan support.

Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, recently teamed up with the conservative Koch Brothers to form an advocacy group for criminal justice reform. One of the coalition’s goals is to lessen the barriers to employment for ex-offenders. The Koch brothers have banned the box at Koch Industries, the multinational conglomerate.

Policies promoting rehabilitation for ex-offenders require a strong dose of common sense. No one is proposing, for instance, that a former drug dealer be allowed to work for the Texas Pharmacy Board. Or, for that matter, that any state agency be required to hire any ex-offender. A “ban-the-box” law just gives the potential employee an opportunity to present himself to a potential employer and for the potential employer to see the whole person. When that box is checked, applicants often are immediately rejected for a prior offense that may have no bearing on the job or is so old that it’s not relevant.

Johnson’s bill would apply only to state agencies. Regardless of whether the proposal becomes law, our entire community should embrace the challenge of ex-offender rehabilitation. Offenders who are released from prison and can’t find work are more likely to reoffend, thus ensuring that taxpayers will shoulder the burden of supporting them.

The numbers are staggering. According to U.S. Department of Labor estimates, one in three American adults has a criminal record. On any given day across the country, about 2.3 million people are incarcerated and each year 700,000 people are released from prison and almost 13 million are admitted to – and released from – local jails.

Last year, more than 70,000 ex-offenders were released from prisons, state jails and other state facilities in Texas alone. Let’s bring common sense to bear on this number. Our society can’t afford to continue to lock out nonviolent ex-offenders after they are released from jail. Those who are qualified and can do honest work should be able to do so.

PEP cited on Entrepreneur.com!

Posted: April 15, 2015 in About PEP

PEP was just profiled on Entrepreneur.com. The story can be found here.

Entrepreneur

While society innovates, our K-12 schools have remained stagnant. As a result, they are not graduating the doers, makers and cutting-edge thinkers the world needs. Certainly, some public and private schools are modernizing — having students work in groups to solve problems, learn online and integrate science with the arts. But most institutions do not teach what should be the centerpiece of a contemporary education: entrepreneurship, the capacity to not only start companies but also to think creatively and ambitiously.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Friedman advocates for inspiring young people to create the companies that will provide long-lasting employment for the country’s citizens. Because the jobs on which 61-year-old Friedman’s own generation relied are no longer available, he advocates for having students graduate high school “innovation ready” — meaning that along with their mortarboards, they receive the critical-thinking, communication and collaboration skills that will help them invent their own careers.

Entrepreneurship education benefits students from all socioeconomic backgrounds because it teaches kids to think outside the box and nurtures unconventional talents and skills. Furthermore, it creates opportunity, ensures social justice, instills confidence and stimulates the economy.

Schools need not teach these skills on their own. They can reach out to the myriad organizations that help teachers in low-income areas teach entrepreneurship, or take advantage of initiatives that pair kids of all ages with science and engineering experts across the country so they can engage in hands-on projects.

Because entrepreneurship can, and should, promote economic opportunity, it can serve as an agent of social justice. Julian Young, 29, was a drug dealer facing a 15-year prison term when a mentor told him he was an entrepreneur. Years later, Young is the founder and executive director of The Start Center for Entrepreneurship, an Omaha-based organization that helps women and minorities launch businesses.

Just as Young’s entrepreneurial instinct helped him escape the school-to-prison pipeline to become a successful business owner, so too can it help other young people at risk tap into their own unrealized talents. The nonprofit Prison Entrepreneurship Program pairs prisoners with top-level mentors in a curriculum that makes them entrepreneurs. The program’s less-than-10 percent recidivism rate lends credence to the argument that gaining business savvy reduces the likelihood that prisoners will end up back in jail.

Furthermore, entrepreneurship has historically spurred minorities, women and immigrants to create better lives for themselves and their families. Currently, minorities own 15 percent of all U.S. businesses, accounting for $591 billion in revenues. Women are starting businesses at one-and-a-half times the national average and currently own 40 percent of all businesses, producing nearly $1.3 trillion in revenues.

Immigrants are another inspiring example. Considering that members of this group own 18 percent of businesses, generating more than $775 billion in revenues, Friedman advises young entrepreneurs to imagine that they themselves are immigrants, because “new immigrants are paranoid optimists.”

While immigrants who start businesses know they might fail, they have nothing to lose, Friedman points out. They are risk-takers and they are persistent — both vital traits for entrepreneurs.

Because entrepreneurship fosters these kinds of character traits, it promises to benefit all students—not just those from low-income backgrounds. According to Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, students who attend private schools are not world changers. The reason: These schools offer affluent parents “a high probability of nonfailure.”

In other words, affluent backgrounds often do not encourage kids to take risks and make mistakes, which are necessary for cultivating ingenuity. Perhaps if students were to study entrepreneurship, they would be forced to think outside the box, to fail and to persist — experiences that would inspire them to become creative, inventive and innovative.

Additionally, entrepreneurship embraces talents and skills that teachers in conventional classrooms might otherwise penalize. “Entrepreneurs are anomalies; they don’t fit in,” Young says. They may not be “book smart” but thrive if given an opportunity to utilize their people smarts and risk-taking skills, he says.

Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, is a good illustration. Branson often recalls how he was a bad student. And serial entrepreneur Bo Peabody similarly points out that entrepreneurs tend to be B students — good at a variety of things, but not stellar at one thing in particular. It’s this ability to think broadly that allows these young people to complete the variety of tasks necessary in starting companies, Peabody says.

This famed venture capitalist’s belief that entrepreneurs have limited attention spans is echoed by Anthony Pensiero, Pensiero, president of Pennwood Technology Group, says he has attention-deficit disorder and that because he was never medicated for it, he was able to channel his considerable energies into the endeavors that pointed him on the path to success.

Conversely, a prescription to the ADHD-drug Ritalin set Young on a destructive course until he met the mentor who told him he was an entrepreneur.

More reasons for entrepreneurship education include the likelihood that it will promote social and emotional well-being. Entrepreneurship might even correlate with happiness more than do other categories of business endeavors, according to a 2012 study of 11,000 MBA graduates from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

According to Wharton professor Ethan Mollick, who co-authored the study, the graduates studied who started their own businesses were for the most part “significantly happier” than others due to perceived greater control over their own destiny. It’s no wonder, then, that well-known business schools such as Wharton, Columbia and Harvard are ramping up their entrepreneurship offerings: Student demand for these courses is on the rise.

Additionally, many business students are choosing social entrepreneurship — doing well by doing good. According to the nonprofit Bridgespan Group, between 2003 and 2009 the number of social-benefit course offerings at top business schools more than doubled, on average. Matthew Paisner, who founded Altru-Help, a website that connects users with local volunteer opportunities, says he’s noticed growing “philanthropic virtue” among Millennials. Millendials, Paisner says, tend to favor working for socially responsible companies and don’t see profit and purpose as mutually exclusive.

There is more good news here: Entrepreneurship education is making its way into some schools, thanks to forward-thinking people and organizations. Certain programs already encourage students to start their own companies as early as high school; and certain schools are working with venture capitalists and angel investors to fund kids’ startups. Other schools have made entrepreneurship courses graduation requisites.

Boldface names in business are signing up: This past January, AOL co-founder Steve Case and former Hewlett-Packard chairman and CEO Carly Fiorina headed a panel of businesspeople and academics, in which they called for the creation of a national competition in which teams of K-12 students would pitch their start-up ideas to judges.

Young entrepreneurs are making an impact as well. Emily Raleigh, a junior at Fordham University, is the founder and CEO of The Smart Girls Group, which “seeks to unite, inspire, and empower the next generation of influential women.” What started as a digital magazine, when Raleigh was a senior in high school, now consists of 12 distinct brands ranging from newsletters to online classes to a network of professional adult women.

Maya Penn, a 13-year-old TED talker, sells her own knit scarves and hats online, and donates a percentage of her proceeds to nonprofits. Sixteen-year-old prodigy Erik Finman, who recalls a teacher telling him to drop out and work at McDonald’s, founded the video-chat tutoring program Botangle and the startup Intern for a Day, which connects companies with potential interns who work for a day on a project that constitutes a vocational audition.

Given developments like these, traditional K-12 education — the old “chalk and talk,” memorization and regurgitation and bubbling in correct answers — seems like the very nemesis of innovation.

As Albert Einstein once said, “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”

PEP was just profiled in Tech.Co. The story, linked here, is below.


TechCoIn the classic novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, ex-convict Jean Valjean underwent a complete transformation after receiving unmerited forgiveness from the bishop he was trying to rob.  Valjean later became a dignified businessman and pillar of the community, advocating for the poor and powerless.  This picture of redemption is what thousands of inmates long to experience as they apply for admission to the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP).

As a nonprofit, PEP seeks to “unlock human potential through entrepreneurial passion, education, and mentoring.”  Founded by business leaders who recognized the entrepreneurial spirit of Texas inmates, the organization has successfully produced over a thousand graduates since the program began in 2004.  PEP offers a rigorous curriculum with MBA-level coursework that challenges inmates and enables them to productively return to society after prison.

The PEP leadership conceived of the idea for the entrepreneurship program upon studying the profiles of criminals in the Texas prison system.  Prior to their arrest and conviction, many of the inmates were competently running their own burgeoning enterprises.  And although the businesses they owned may have been illegal, their ability to start and grow their companies demonstrated the presence of unrealized business acumen in the prison system.  PEP hopes the entrepreneurship program will repurpose the inmates’ entrepreneurial talents and channel them into legitimate business ventures.

Lending credibility to the program is Baylor University, which has been awarding PEP graduates with a Certificate of Entrepreneurship since 2013.  The certificate provides an incentive for inmates to excel and also helps to overcome the stigma of incarceration.  According to PEP, less than one percent of those enrolled in the program are white-collar criminals.  Most have drug-related offenses, with 50 percent doing time for violent crimes.

Just how effective is the Prison Entrepreneurship Program?  Baylor University announced that the employment rate of PEP graduates is over 93% and the recidivism rate is under 5%.  PEP estimates the program has saved the state of Texas $6 million in reduced recidivism.  Graduates have launched over 165 businesses, with at least two exceeding $1 million in gross revenues.

To learn more about the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, visit PEP’s website atpep.org.

The following was written by PEP Class 20 graduate, Jose M. 


PEP Graduate Jose M.

PEP Graduate, Jose M.

Because of PEP and the Ten Driving Values, I am a new man.

As a teenager and a young man, I was a very lost individual. How I became the person I am today is largely due to the program and the tools given to me while incarcerated, to apply to my life on the inside and once released. I started off as a troubled person with no respect or values, but now I have a plan, and I have respect for society and others.

I initially thought PEP was a business program, but eventually I learned it was much more than that. I was skeptical at first, but like others, I began asking questions around the unit about the program. I heard that it was family-oriented and heavily involved in repairing broken homes. I latched onto it for that reason because I love my family very much and was tired of hurting them.

While in class, I learned business skills, which was great. But most importantly, I learned how to identify my character flaws in the Effective Leadership training and through a number of character assessments from my peers. I also learned that I had talents and that I actually had something to contribute to the world. We were given etiquette lessons that taught me how to conduct myself in a number of circumstances. Once released, I was also given the opportunity to continue learning in our eSchool classes. Upon completion, I was given the status of alumni, and in September of this year, I will receive my second diploma from PEP.

We have been given so much by PEP to guarantee our success in the real world. I have been gainfully employed since within a few days after my release, and I am now enrolling into courses to finally complete my college degree. I am closer to my family than I have ever been, and my whole thinking process has improved greatly. I owe so much to PEP. Thank you for opening my eyes and restoring confidence in myself. I know that as long as I work hard and remain positive, I will be successful.

I continue to participate and involve myself when I can to give back. I and others see that I’m a changed individual, and for that, I want to thank everyone involved in the program. It has been a life-changing experience.

Jose M.
Class 20

The following was written by MBA student and executive volunteer, Michael Collins, about his first experience inside prison and how it pushed him outside his comfort zone.


About two years ago I was introduced to the Prison Entrepreneurship Program by my father, who swore to me that my experience with PEP would change my life. He couldn’t have said a truer statement.

The purpose of this organization is to help those who are incarcerated create jobs for themselves once they are released from prison. This is especially important, as most men find it extremely difficult to find employment after transitioning back into society. As a result of this hardship, over half return to prison. To combat this problem, the PEP program equips men with entrepreneurial tools to start their own businesses once released. Similar to the television show, “Shark Tank,” executive volunteers, ranging from CEO’s of globally recognizable companies to graduate students, critique the mens’ business plans and pitches in a competitive setting at the culmination of the program.

Growing up in a white, privileged family, I didn’t have much exposure to individuals who had committed crimes or gone to prison. It was a side of the world which I had really been sheltered from, so as I walked into the facility for the first time, my heart began to beat faster and faster in anticipation. Despite my expectation of being treated like a law-abiding civilian, I was abruptly awakened by the serious tone and treatment by the guards as we were pat-searched and ordered to go through a metal detector.

The other executive volunteers and I then walked down a hallway and into a room, where we were welcomed by the men participating in the program, all cheering and celebrating our presence. After we all got settled, the CEO of PEP began to talk about the program and the agenda for the day. We began with some getting-to-know-you exercises, along with some “surprises” to really get us out of our comfort zones, which were instrumental in breaking down the apprehension I knew existed amongst some of the volunteers in attendance. By the end of this segment, I began to not only see the appreciation the guys had for us being there, but I could also feel the gratitude. It was at this moment I knew this experience was already changing my life.

For the next five hours I spent time meeting with about twenty different inmates one-on-one to hear their business plans and provide feedback. This part of my experience in prison was extremely powerful, as my very distinct perception of inmates changed so drastically. The hours flew by, and I felt like I wasn’t in a prison anymore at all. The men I spoke with were some of the most articulate and personable people I’d ever met, and by the end of the day, it felt like I had just spent my time catching up with old friends. Then, the volunteers were asked to step aside, and the inmates were ordered to file into lines for a count: an eye-opening reality check that I’ll never forget. The atmosphere did a complete 180, and the room went from being a warm social setting with friends, to a cold and harsh prison almost instantly. The men I had just became friends with, and laughed with, were now being treated like rabid animals.

As I drove home from the prison, I struggled mentally to comprehend everything that had occurred while I was there. About a day or two later, I finally understood what all the volunteers had talked about; I could feel how I had changed. All my perspectives and preconceived notions about prisoners had been erased, as the passion and effort I saw from those men rivaled those of famous entrepreneurs.

My experience in prison not only changed my life, but it taught me a lot. I learned that uncomfortable situations are only as stressful as you make them out to be, and that no matter where two people come from, there’s always something you can find you have in common. Since that day I first stepped into that prison, I have been back three times, each less stressful and more enjoyable than the last. But no trip back will ever match my first experience inside those walls, a memory I will always hold dear to my heart.

Mike Collins

Read on for the most recent coverage of how our programs change lives!

http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/Texas-Prison-Program-Aims-to-Produce-Business-Savvy-Inmates-288584471.html

The following was written by PEP Class 22 graduate, Barry M. 


PEP Graduate, Barry M.

PEP Graduate, Barry M.

I have spent most of my adult life incarcerated.

For most of this time, I thought I was just a bad person. I thought “I was born this way and there is nothing that I can do about it. I will spend the rest of my life in and out of prison.”

But when PEP supporters like you met me in prison earlier this year, they brought me a very different message. They told me: “You have value.”

By spending a day in prison with total strangers, people like you convinced me that I was not a bad person … I had just been making bad choices. They taught me that, if I made a sincere commitment to myself, I could change.

PEP supporters like you taught me that my past did not have to dictate my future.

This all started when I was sitting in my cell on the Coffield Unit in East Texas. That morning, I received a postcard inviting me to apply to PEP. I asked the others on my cellblock about PEP. They told me not to bother applying because I would never get in.

To be honest, I believed them. But I also knew that it was going to be hard to gain employment with a felony on my record. So, I loved the idea of starting my own business.

But then I met PEP’s recruiter, Marcus Hill. He had served our country in the Army and was now a successful entrepreneur. But I was shocked when I learned that, in between those things, he had spent time in prison. Just like me.

Marcus told me that PEP was much more than a business program. He told me that if I was just applying because I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I would not be accepted. But if I was applying because I needed to change – because I was desperate for a change and willing to go to any length to get it – that I had a chance.

Thankfully, I gave myself that chance.

From the moment that I walked into PEP, my life has not been the same. It feels like I’m in a dream, except I know it’s for real. Although PEP is very challenging, the rewards are greater than anything I could have possibly imagined back in that cell in Coffield.

You truly changed the lives of men like me
by supporting PEP.

The business lessons that you offered us were exceptional. And I have to admit, I am pretty proud of the business plan that I put together! But honestly, what impacted me the most was PEP’s focus on character development.

By guiding me through these programs, people like you helped me to change my thought process. From the thoughts that I think to the words that I speak, you have cleaned me from the inside out.

When I look in the mirror now, I like the man who is looking back. That is something that I could not say for a very, very long time. Thank you for giving me that gift.

To repay you, I am committed to changing the lives of others through my story. But I cannot do it without PEP, and PEP cannot exist without your support. I hope that you will consider donating $22 in honor of Class 22, which graduates this Christmas.

Your gifts matter. They make a difference to men like me, to our families, and to our community. Please go online to www.PEP.org to donate today.

​With gratitude,

Barry M.
Class “Transcendent” 22

p.s. ​The PEP Board of Directors has committed $190,000 in matching funds for every new donation before 12/31/2014! That means that a gift of $22 becomes $44 – enough to sponsor a month of bus passes for men looking for work after release from prison!

Better still … if you can make a monthly commitment, the board will match your commitment $2-to-1 based on the annual value of your gift. That means that committing $10 per month will secure $240 in matching funds for PEP before the end 2014. If you are interested, please email Charles Hearne at CHearne@PEP.org. Thank you for any commitment you can make!