The following was written by Tim Tucker, Message South Africa National Director for The Message Trust. You can learn more about this organization on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Tim Tucker South Africa Message Trust

Tim Tucker, from South Africa’s “The Message Trust”

PEP Pitch Day, Friday 14th November 2014.

Cape Town to Amsterdam. Amsterdam to Atlanta. Atlanta to Dallas. Dallas to Houston and Houston to Cleveland Correctional Center. It was a long trip. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Yes. Definitely. Without a doubt.

My organisation (www.message.org.za) runs programs for juvenile offenders in Cape Town, South Africa. This “pilgrimage” to Texas was to learn from PEP as we seek to deliver a similar programme in Cape Town’s prisons. Notorious for gangsterism, drug dealing and violent crime, we are constantly seeking to improve our interventions in Cape Town’s prisons in order to provide a greater opportunity for ex-offenders to be reintegrated into society. My exposure to PEP’s model greatly inspired and impacted me.

What I experienced was a wonderful blend of the PEP brotherhood, an extremely effective program, and the added dimension of an incredible spirit of determined and deliberate fun, that is a powerful recipe for rehabilitation. From the moment I was greeted by the most moving “guard of honor” I’ve ever experienced (loud music, cheering, and high-fiving the PEP participants), I recognised that PEP has developed something special. As Al danced to the front to introduce the day, I realised that my British reserve needed to be shelved if I was going to maximise my experience. And from that moment on I was completely absorbed in all that took place.

But I was soon to learn that PEP is not just about feel-good motivational music, dancing, clapping, high-fiving and hoorah’s! We were split up into our various groups to listen to the pitches that the participants had prepared after five months of hard work. The first candidate began his presentation. His concept was well thought through and he presented in an articulate and compelling way. The executive next to me, John-  an experienced PEP business mentor – nudged me and whispered, “that will be one of the best two or three presentations today.” Boy was he wrong! After the next presentation he nudged me again… “wow” he said, “that will also be up there.” After the third equally high calibre presentation he was realising that he would need to eat his words! It was humbling and inspiring to listen to pitch after pitch that had been well thought through and matched the passion and gifting of each participant – together with some great innovative ideas. Scoring them was tough – particularly as, following John’s input, I gave the first participant extremely high marks…

As we gathered once more with the big group, it was evident that each executive had been greatly impacted and impressed. What was also evident is that I wasn’t going to escape from prison without the initiation of dancing… as all us “newbies” were summoned to dance forward. But it was a great privilege to be handed the microphone to share with everyone that the lessons learned on that day were going to make a tangible difference in South African prisons – although I know that South African dancing will eclipse the Texan two-step!

– Tim Tucker (Message Trust)

This year, PEP is very proud to announce that our Houston Employer of the Year is Cedric Hornbuckle … the charismatic leader behind Moved by Love, LLC.

(Cedric is also a PEP Graduate who recently met with Senator John Corynyn to tell him more about his business and the impact of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program).

Here are some photos of Cedric at the 2014 Houston eSchool Graduation Dinner. Cedric was recognized at the ceremony for his many contributions to PEP over the years, particularly his service as a mentor and employer to our recently released graduates.

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The following was written by PEP volunteer, Jessica Middleton. Jessica is a Criminologist and Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology.


jessica middleton

There were several elements of that day that really struck me.  First of all, the dancing…  I have always been a firm believer in the healing power of dance.  When I was trudging through the darkest phase of my own life, it was dance that kept my spirit alive – salsa dancing in particular, but regardless of the method of dance, it is a healthy and accepted vessel for expression and release.  It puts a smile on your face and doesn’t ask for anything in return other than the pure enjoyment of its recipients.

I first heard about the coined concept of “social distance reduction” from Dr. Everette B. Penn, Criminologist and Professor at University of Houston-Clear Lake.  Dr. Penn was not only my professor, but also my academic mentor, always throwing extra tasks and challenges my way, I believe, just to see what exactly I was made of.  The first day we met, before I even began the Criminology program, mind you, I’m still just a Business Leadership/Management graduate, he instructed me to a  to write an entry for the African American Encyclopedia of Criminal Justice on the topic of “crime prevention.”  I knew absolutely nothing about criminology or criminal justice, much less that there was a difference between the two, but I had already claimed to be a strong researcher, therefore it was time to sink or swim!

Believe it or not, my submission was accepted into the encyclopedia which was simply miraculous, and I guess my submission had enough legitimate information to be published – WOW!

Shortly thereafter, Dr. Penn donned me as Managing Editor of a special issue academic journal called Criminal Justice Studies: A Critical Journal of Crime, Law and Society, which was a pain, but Dr. Penn knew exactly what he was doing – giving me a REAL taste of  research, editing, and publication.  The ins and outs.  The peer reviews.  The rejections.  The unreturned voicemails and emails.  The absurdity of some of the so-called scholarly writing I had to drudge through.  He knew that again, I would decide to sink or swim.  I believe I swam…well, maybe doggie paddled.  Perhaps I just stayed afloat, who knows?  But the publication now rests in my library, so let’s get back to social distance…

So several UHCL scholars and innovators teamed up with community forces to create the Teen and Police Service Academy, also known as TAPS Academy.  The overarching goal of TAPS Academy is to reduce the social distance between teens and law enforcement.  Theoretically, this should subsequently reduce crime.  Since I’ve not attempted to get my hands on any data testing TAPS impact, I cannot speak to the effectiveness of this particular program, but I can with full conviction say there is something mysteriously powerful about this “reducing social distance” concept.

I say all of that to say…drumroll please…reducing social distance, whether PEP recognizes it or not, is the cornerstone of this program that makes it so different than others, and envied by all.  You can teach a man how to write a business plan until you’re blue in face, but give him a mentor, a genuine accountability partner and a dedicated teacher all wrapped into one, and now we’re talkin’!

There is real, live, living power when you bridge such a chasm.  Social distance murders more relationships than do actual felons, but PEP…PEP is the bridge that slowly dissolves this ugly, unnecessary social distance that only divides us.  There is something very interesting going on here in Cleveland…something very peculiar…something I have never seen before.  Dare I call it special?  I mean, this is the stuff criminologist DREAM about!  Where did this come from?  I feel guilty for not knowing about previously, when I genuinely thought I was somewhat savvy when it came to TDCJ programs based on my research, thesis, etc.

But PEP…was flying under the radar…they had to be or else I would have been made aware of this a long time ago, and it embarrasses me, as a Criminologist and CRIM/CJ Professor, that I was not aware of PEP.  It was flying right underneath my nose. I am still disappointed and heartbroken that it took 20 classes for me to become a complete heart, mind, body investor in PEP.   But hey, God works, and it’s typically mysterious when it comes to my understanding, so I have learned to just say, “Thank you for the time I have been given.”

I can only hope that you all, PEP participants present, past, and future, feel the same way.  Gratitude is a stronger force than you know.  And on that note, since I am only a Criminologist, I will then hand it over to the Coaches, etc., to do their thang’.  I love you all dearly.

Warm Regards,

Jessica E. Middleton, M.A. 

PEP Challenge Sign

If you’ve kept up with our blog, you have read some amazing stories of life transformation in the past few months.

You have read graduate about Adam C., who shared that PEP taught him that “beauty could rise from the ashes of (a) brokenhearted young man.” You have read graduate Lance N.’s story about how PEP helped him to find his first job (and why he donates to PEP each month). Graduate David F. shared how he had never stayed out of jail for more than a year, but now has been out for more than three years thanks to PEP. Others, like Devon S. and Cristian H. , shared how God has changed their lives through PEP.

And all of that was just in October!

Just imagine the stories that you can make possible over the next year.

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program is rapidly growing. This past August, we launched our operations in a second prison in Texas. By 2015, we might be able to serve nearly twice as many people as we did at the beginning of this year… provided that we have the funding to do so.

PEP is 100% privately funded. Without donors like you, graduate Clay T. may not have paid of $44K in debt and graduate James C. may not have generated over $5MM in sales through his business.

You make these stories possible. That is why we are asking for your help today.

We need to raise $190,000 by December 31, 2014.

These funds will ensure that we can launch into 2015 with full force, rapidly expanding our presence both inside of prison and outside of the walls. Your gift will make sure that 100% of our graduates find a job within 90 days of release from prison and that their likelihood of returning to crime drops by 80-90%.

Help us Meet the Challenge!

thermometer

Thanks to the PEP Board of Directors, we have the potential to match every gift!

  • One-time gifts will be matched dollar-for-dollar. That means a gift of $1,000 will instantly become $2,000!
  • Monthly commitments will be matched TWO to one based on their annual value! That means a commitment of $100 per month will receive a $2,400 match – making a $3,600 combined impact on PEP!

Where else can you make this kind of impact?

Your gifts matter.

Can we count on you?

Bert Smith
CEO

Employment Workshop

Employment Workshop

The 22nd Class of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program will graduate on the afternoon Friday, December 12, 2014 (you can learn more about that event here). That day, these men will complete our 6-month Business Plan Competition and earn their Certificates in Entrepreneurship from Baylor University.

We will give them a few days to rest … but then we bring them back for their final event:

The Class 22 Graduate Employment Workshop
Friday, Dec 19, 2014 from 1:00p-5:00p
Cleveland Correctional Center near Houston, Texas
(Learn more and RSVP here)

At this important event, volunteers (i.e. YOU!) will conduct Mock Interviews with our graduates before they release form prison. This is a great way to prepare our guys for the daunting task of answering “the felony question” in interviews. Plus, it gives them one last chance to polish up their happy dances for when they do land a job.

Help us to maintain a 100% employment rate…. RSVP today!

jose c

Click here to learn more and invest today!



Calling all PEP supporters!

Graduate Jose C. has been approved for a $5,000 loan for his painting business in Dallas. He now needs YOUR help to raise the loan capital. He will use the loan to purchase the equipment and bonding insurance necessary to fully re-launch the successful business that he owned before his incarceration.

This is loan (NOT a donation). You can invest as little as $5 and you will be paid back over two years through Kiva.

Will you invest at least $5 today?

Learn more here:
https://zip.kiva.org/loans/8690

And here is a note from Jose:

“A Premium starting out the day, preparing to lay wood flooring. I will keep you updated on our progress through out the day. I’m out here giving all I’ve got every day. To my PEP family , and friends take a look at the link above if you like the daily efforts .A Premium paint and remodeling is trying to reach a goal and a dream. Thank you!”

jose c job

Class 20 graduate Mark L., a.k.a. "Sweet Homey the Clown"!

Class 20 graduate Mark L., a.k.a. “Sweet Homey the Clown”!

We have a very special “welcome home” post today!

Mark L. has been in prison since 10/1/1994 … and was released today. 20 years, 1 month, 13 days later.

This Class 20 graduate was actually granted parole earlier, but he **declined** it and opted to stay in prison. Why?

Because Mark had been chosen as one of 10 servant leaders (prior PEP graduates) to transfer to a new prison to help us launch a new program near Dallas, Texas. Mark “had a job to do and wanted to see it through to the end.” Read more about this here; Mark is also pictured below.

Thanks to Mark’s servant leadership, around 40 other inmates recently completed this new program in PEP. And today … after 7,349 days behind bars … Mark is free at last.

Welcome home, “Sweet Homey the Clown”!

PEP Graduate Servant Leaders at Estes Unit

Pictured with the other servant leaders who followed this call to open a new program, Mark L. is on the front row, bottom right,

 

Read similar testimonials from other graduates here.

charles and israel

What better day than today to celebrate transformation?

These two dapper young men are not only PEP graduates, they are now PEP staff members who are also going to college thanks to some generous donors … this photo was taken before they walked into an event to thank the people who paid for their scholarships.

Whatever you have done in your past, your future will be decided by what you do TODAY. Thank you to Charles H. and Israel E. for inspiring us to dream bigger, live bolder, work harder, and love deeper!

The following was written by PEP Class 8 graduate, Cristian H. 


cristian h

Cristiam H., PEP Class 8 Graduate

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under Heaven.
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance…”

Hope came for me at a time in my life when death at a young age was normal for a kid from my neighborhood. A millionth second chance was presented to me, and it was time to make a decision, once and for all.

I was raised well by my parents, and they did the best they could to keep me on a path of righteousness. I rebelled due to a desire to fit in with my “friends”. I struggled with a deep sense of inadequacy and this only fueled my desire to belong. Sin caught my attention at an early age and kept me wanting more until the age of 21, when I found myself in the county jail with several felony assault charges. I called my family with apologies and good-byes.

I cried out loud with tears in Bexar County Jail, praying Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s, desperately hoping that God would hear me. He heard me and my tears went away. But I still had to pay for my crimes. I was sentenced to three concurrent two year sentences in TDC.

I entered PEP six months before the end of my sentence. After reviewing the PEP application, I knew it was ‘a God thing’. I joyfully signed up and was accepted. PEP has been in my life ever since. God has used PEP to build my character. I have been educated and equipped for success in all endeavors thru PEP. PEP is a refuge, a brotherhood and a lifelong relationship. My story is full of ups and downs pre- and post-PEP. But through it all, I am better, not bitter. Through it all, PEP is still there for me. And through it all, I will continue to move forward, focused on living a life filled with purpose. Without God and without PEP, who knows where I would be today.

Cristian H.
PEP Class 8

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. Now is the time, today is the day of salvation.”

Read similar testimonials from other graduates here.

Pat O'Brien (Co-Founder of Rogers-O'Brien Construction)

Pat O’Brien (Co-Founder of Rogers-O’Brien Construction)

Pat O’Brien was at the top of his game when a strange letter arrived in his office.

He was the Chairman of the Board of Rogers-O’Brien, a leading general contractor in Texas that he co-founded with Steve Rogers in 1969. The firm was poised to deliver its highest amount of construction volume over the coming years, and Pat had recently transitioned into his Chairman role after decades as the company’s CEO. He now had the great pleasure of watching his son Preston and grandson Justin leading the company that he had built.

But as he sat in his office going through the mail, one invitation stood out: “Join me in prison.”

The letter was from a nonprofit called the Prison Entrepreneurship Program. It was an invitation for Pat to volunteer as a judge for a business plan competition… inside of a Texas prison. As an entrepreneur himself, Pat was intrigued by the concept. He soon met the staff and some of the organization’s inspiring graduates and eventually accepted their invitation to join them in prison in 2007.

How little he knew, that first trip would become a life sentence.

Pat was so impressed by what he saw at PEP that he joined the organization’s newly formed Dallas Advisory Board, whose quarterly meetings he began to host at his office. He continued to volunteer in prison, but he also began mentoring graduates who were released to Dallas after prison. And more importantly, he suggested that his HR team begin interviewing PEP graduates to work at the firm.

“At first, I was very skeptical,” said Ken Dunham, VP of Human Resources. “But when I had that first interview, I was immediately impressed and called one of our superintendents to tell him that he needed to meet this guy.”

That PEP graduate – Adam M. – nailed both interviews thanks to the coaching he received from PEP. He immediately impressed the superintendent, who went from being cautious about having a former felon on his team to demanding that Adam work on any crew that he supervised. Adam’s integrity, determination and commitment to excellence were hallmarks of Rogers-O’Brien; the superintendent wanted those qualities on his team.

Adam has since been promoted several times at Rogers-O’Brien. With the ongoing mentoring of his supervisor and men like Mr. Dunham and Mr. O’Brien, Adam has also started a family. He claims that his entire life has been transformed by the belief that Mr. O’Brien placed in PEP.

“I am grateful for the second chance that I have been given to prove myself,” Adam recently told a room full of 30+ potential employers gathered at the Royal Oaks Country Club.

PEP Graduates attending the event

PEP Graduates attending the event

Realizing that access to jobs plays a critical role in the transformation of formerly incarcerated men, Mr. Dunham and Mr. O’Brien co-hosted the gathering along with Keith Bird from Alcon, Steve Heussner from Mogul Wealth Strategies and Jack Sovern from Hunt Construction Group. These executives wanted to introduce their peers to the Prison Entrepreneurship Program and its graduates.

Adam spoke at the event along with several other PEP graduates. Their stories inspired the guests so much that several immediately offered to interview PEP graduates for jobs. One even offered to pay for additional training for PEP graduates to be able to join his firm. Within a month, a number of PEP graduates began working for firms represented at the event (including several of the graduates who spoke that day).

“Pat is a great example of how a donor can really make a tremendous impact on PEP in ways that go beyond financial support,” said Bert Smith, CEO of PEP. “He is a remarkable ambassador for us. His willingness to lend his name to our efforts gives us the credibility that we need to succeed in our mission.”

Earlier this year, Pat travelled to Houston to speak to a gathering of the Philanthropy Roundtable about his involvement in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program. The event drew philanthropists who annually donate at least $50,000 to charitable causes, and Pat spoke to them about how their personal involvement can complement their financial investment in organizations.

“Getting involved with PEP is one of the greatest things that I have done in my life,” said Pat. “I have never seen a greater return on the time and money that I have invested in a nonprofit than what I have seen through PEP.”

PEP does not just change the lives of those who are incarcerated; we transform the hearts of our volunteers, the strength of our graduates’ employers, and the future of our entire community.

Learn more at www.PEP.org.