The following originally appeared in the 2013 annual report from Bridgeway Capital Management. It is reprinted here with permission from the author, Bridgeway’s Head of Equity Trading, Dick Cancelmo.

Transformative Change
Prison Entrepreneurship Program — authored by Dick Cancelmo

Dick Cancelmo

Dick Cancelmo

In my mind happiness and the pursuit of satisfaction in life evolves around a common theme of People, Places and Purpose. Little did I know that prison could be a Place to evoke happiness until I participated in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program or PEP. This very well run and successful program transforms “inmates and executives by unlocking human potential through entrepreneurial passion, education and mentoring.” One of the outcomes of PEP’s mission is that it tackles a tremendous problem in Texas prisons: that 25% of prisoners return to jail within 3 years. PEP’s 700+ graduates have a recidivism rate of less than 5% since PEP started operations in 2004. In addition, the employment rate for graduates within 90 days of release is 100%, with more than 120 businesses launched from the program.

Three Bridgeway Partners, Kai Liu, Cindy Griffin and Tammira Philippe, have been active in this program for several years. They organized a small group of Partners, family members and a business associate to see what PEP was all about. Recently, we went to the Cleveland Correctional Center just north of Houston and spent the better part of the day in prison. We participated in “Pitch Day,” an exercise where select prisoners “pitch” business plans for their hopeful post-prison businesses. As members of the volunteer executive panels, we offered insight, suggestions and encouragement to this group of men.

When we arrived at the Cleveland Correctional Center, the first thing that was obvious was that there are very few things that differentiate us from the inmates in the program. If it weren’t for luck or grace or whatever you choose to call it, any of us could be the ones on the other side. Secondly, they were very well prepared for this event after spending many hours of hard work studying an outstanding curriculum. Third, they were incredibly articulate, passionate, friendly and thankful for our help, and more importantly the help of the dedicated leaders of PEP who have given these men the tremendous gift of Purpose.

Perhaps the experience was best summed up by Matt Hall, our business associate who joined us – “I’m very cognizant of what gives me energy and of activities that are energy thieves. If I think about how I feel after being away on a ten day vacation and compare that feeling to one day at PEP, there’s no question that PEP is the winner. Three weeks later, I’m still energized by the men of PEP.”

PEP’s success in reducing recidivism rates and changing lives has been growing. They hope to soon include all inmates at the Cleveland Correctional Center, which would double the program size. Check out PEP for yourself –

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has recently released a report on Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010 (NCJ 244205). The report, which included Texas (where the Prison Entrepreneurship Program currently operates), examines the 5-year post-release offending patterns of persons released from state prisons in 2005 by offender characteristics, prior criminal history, and commitment offense.

Among state prisoners released in 30 states in 2005—

  • About two-thirds (67.8%) of released prisoners were arrested for a new crime within 3 years, and three-quarters (76.6%) were arrested within 5 years.
  • More than a third (36.8%) of all prisoners who were arrested within 5 years of release were arrested within the first 6 months after release, with more than half (56.7%) arrested by the end of the first year.
  • A sixth (16.1%) of released prisoners were responsible for almost half (48.4%) of the nearly 1.2 million arrests that occurred in the 5-year follow-up period.

At PEP, we see recidivism as one of the most pernicious challenges facing the future of our country. Every inmate who returns to prison costs taxpayers an average of $31,000 per year … not including the tremendous damage caused by their crimes, the loss of their income to their families and more.

Thankfully, your support of our work has begun to shed new light on how our country can address this challenge. That is why U.S. Senator John Cornyn recently visited PEP to learn more about our work, and why so many different states have contacted us to learn about our unparalleled results.

What do you think about this study?

As our country learns more about the impact of recidivism, are there other questions that we should be asking?

For example, what percentage of these recidivists were unemployed at the time of their re-arrest? If employed, how did their wages compare to their income before incarceration? What percentage of their income was being spent on rent and basic living costs? Or, perhaps, what percentage were not able to afford a place to live at all?

None of the answers to these questions would excuse a return to crime. However, if we do not understand the background of those who do recidivate, we will never be able to reduce their likelihood of returning to crime.

In our ten years of experience at PEP, we have seen that the inability to secure a living wage is one of the leading sources of stress among people returning from prison. Followed by an inability to find safe, affordable housing, this stress can often lead to the poor decision-making that lands them back in jail or prison. This is particularly the case with drug offenders, many of whom did not receive appropriate treatment for their substance abuse while incarcerated.

By first equipping our participants with the ability to earn a decent living, and then surrounding them with a supportive environment in which to continue rebuilding their lives after release from prison, PEP has delivered some of the nation’s best results in terms of reducing crime among former prisoners.

Your support of our mission drives these results. Thank you!

Restored Hope. New Identity.

Blog by Class 14 Graduate

Posted: April 22, 2014 in About PEP, In the News

One of our past graduates, Robert R. from Class 14, recently sent us this blog that he wrote about PEP. Please take a moment to read his thoughts on our life-changing program!



Classy AwardsAs noted in the press release below from the United Nations Foundation, the Prison Entrepreneurship Program has been nominated as a finalist for The CLASSY Awards, an event that recognizes “the Greatest Champions of Social Progress.”

We are honored that PEP will be represented on the night of the award ceremony by one of our amazing graduates … Pat McGee, who recently won the Leonard Davis Service Award for his work as PEP’s manager of in-prison initiatives. You can also see Pat tell his story on video here.

Announcing the Top Nominees for the 5th Annual CLASSY Awards

Winners Announced at Red Carpet Ceremony on May 3rd


April 16, 2014 – San Diego, CA – The CLASSY Awards, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, is proud to announce the Top Nominees for the 5th Annual CLASSY Awards. The 8 Winners will be announced onstage at the CLASSY Awards Ceremony on Saturday, May 3rd in San Diego, California.

“We are excited to play a part in recognizing some of the most significant achievements in the social sector worldwide,” said Pat Walsh, co-founder of the CLASSY Awards. “These organizations are driving significant progress against our most challenging social issues, and we are honored to share their success.”

The CLASSY Awards is the largest social impact awards ceremony in the country, celebrating the greatest champions of social progress. More than 3,600 organizations worldwide were evaluated as part of the comprehensive, yearlong discovery process. The Awards Leadership Council, a 100-person board comprised of top leaders and cause experts from around the world, has reviewed the Top Nominees to determine the Winners. Their unique perspective and valuable insight establishes this recognition as one of the most prestigious honors in the social sector.

“We believe that everyone has a role to play in building a better world for all people,” said Elizabeth Gore, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the UN Foundation. “The CLASSY Awards brings together the best leaders in the social sector. The collective work of these organizations helps advance the United Nations’ humanitarian goals, and we are proud to help honor these nominees.”

This year’s Top Nominees include:


  • Blue Star Families, Inc.
  • Camp Better America
  • Easter Seals Dixon Center
  • Fisher House Foundation
  • Give an Hour
  • Justice for Vets
  • Soldier On, Inc.
  • The Mission Continues
  • Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS)
  • VeteransPlus


  • Best Friends Animal Society
  • Halifax Humane Society
  • People for the Ethnical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
  • The Wild Animal Sanctuary
  • World Vets


  • International Medical Corps
  • Liter of Light USA
  • Medair
  • NYCMedics
  • RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)


  • Achieving the Dream
  • Blue Engine
  • buildOn
  • DC Action for Children
  • Diplomas Now
  • Friends of the Children
  • Higher Achievement
  • Moneythink
  • Project Lead The Way, Inc.
  • Right To Play
  • Room to Read
  • Team4Tech
  • The After-School Corporation
  • Turnaround for Children, Inc.
  • UClass


  • Acterra
  • Amazon Watch
  • American Rivers
  • Bonneville Environmental Foundation
  • Center for Biological Diversity
  • Climate Action Reserve
  • Conservation International Foundation
  • Ecotrust
  • Endangered Species International
  • Health in Harmony
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch
  • Sustainable Harvest International
  • The Paradigm Project
  • The Xerces Society
  • World Wildlife Fund, Inc.


  • A Home Within
  • APOPO Hero Rats
  • Blood:Water Mission
  • Cancer Research Institute
  • DKT International
  • Family Health Centers of San Diego
  • Global Birthing Home Foundation
  • Hearing Health Foundation
  • Himalayan Cataract Project
  • Invest in Kids
  • Jacaranda Health
  • Jhpiego
  • Lazarex Cancer Foundation
  • Marley’s Mission
  • Network Against Malaria
  • Noah’s Light Foundation
  • Solar Cookers International
  • St. Baldrick’s Foundation
  • The Creative Center at University Settlement
  • The Translational Genomics Research Institute
  • Unite for Sight
  • Unitio, Inc.
  • Verbal Applications, Inc.


  • Centro De Los Derechoes Del Migrante, Inc.
  • Darkness to Light
  • Defy Ventures, Inc.
  • Free the Slaves
  • Games for Change
  • Good World Solutions
  • Human Rights Campaign Foundation
  • Immigration Equality
  • Just Like My Child Foundation
  • Justice for Families
  • Kids in Need of Defense
  • Made in a Free World
  • One Colorado Education Fund
  • PCI Global (Project Concern International)
  • Polaris Project
  • Prevent Child Abuse America
  • Prison Entrepreneurship Program
  • Restaurant Opportunities Centers United
  • Sanlaap North America
  • Scouts for Equality
  • Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE)
  • Truckers Against Trafficking


  • Action Against Hunger
  • Adventure Project
  • BRAC
  • City Harvest
  • Community Solutions
  • Convoy of Hope
  • Design Impact
  • FINCA International
  • Interise
  • Medical Teams International
  • MEND
  • Mercy Housing
  • Namati
  • Oxfam America
  • Plant With Purpose
  • Project Healthy Children
  • Pure Water for the World
  • Root Capital
  • TechnoServe
  • Ubuntu Education Fund
  • Vittana Foundation
  • Water Missions International
  • WaterAid
  • Wholesome Wave

More information about the CLASSY Awards Top Nominees can be found at: or email

Tweet this: Join the top social innovators & @classyawards Nominees driving global #socialprogress at the #CLASSY14 weekend!


About the CLASSY Awards

The CLASSY Awards, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, is the largest social impact awards ceremony of its kind, celebrating the greatest champions of social progress. The yearlong initiative identifies and evaluates organizations in eight major cause categories, including Active Duty & Veteran Services, Animal & Wildlife Welfare, Education Advancement, Environmental Protection, Health Services, Human Rights & Social Justice, Poverty & Hunger Relief, Disaster Relief & Public Safety. The winners are determined by the CLASSY Awards Leadership Council, an honorary board of leaders and experts whose unique perspective and valuable insight establishes this recognition as one of the highest honors in the social sector. For more information, visit

About the United Nations Foundation

The United Nations Foundation builds public-private partnerships to address the world’s most pressing problems, and broadens support for the United Nations through advocacy and public outreach. Through innovative campaigns and initiatives, the Foundation connects people, ideas, and resources to help the UN solve global problems. The Foundation was created in 1998 as a U.S. public charity by entrepreneur and philanthropist Ted Turner and now is supported by global corporations, foundations, governments, and individuals. For more information, visit

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program will host the Class “Triumphant” 21′s Business Plan Workshop on Saturday, April 26, 2014, 9:00am-3:00pm.

This is a perfect volunteer opportunity for those who cannot attend Friday events, such as our “Selling with Purpose” event the day before (on Friday, April 25 from 11:30 – 5:00pm).

About the Business Plan Workshop
Get your hands dirty while working one-on-one with participants to provide written and oral feedback on their business plans. Combined with the preceding day’s feedback on their personal presentations and business pitches, this is a great way to make good business plans even better!

See schedule to RSVP here.

Cedric H (Moved by Love) with U.S. Senator John Cornyn

Cedric H (Moved by Love) with U.S. Senator John Cornyn

Yesterday, U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and his wife Sandy Cornyn visited the Prison Entrepreneurship Program‘s Houston office to learn how PEP has delivered some of the nation’s best results in prison rehabilitation.

During the meeting, the Senator described PEP as a program “worth bringing back to Washington.” See photo gallery below.

The meeting included a tour of our offices as well as a roundtable discussion with PEP’s leadership team, representatives from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Rockwell Fund and RKI (one of the largest employers of PEP’s graduates).

One of the highlights of the meeting was introducing the Senator to several of our graduates who are now running their own businesses. This included Cedric H., founder of Moved by Loved, who is pictured below along with a fellow PEP graduate who is now working for Cedric.

Several reporters were present for the event, which was followed by a press conference during which Sen. Cornyn discussed “The Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act” (which he has sponsored along with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)). The legislation would address multiple aspects of prison reform, including requiring the Bureau of Prisons to offer programs like PEP to eligible inmates nationwide.

You can read more about this visit via Houston Public Media’s article here:

You can also listen to this story here:

PEP graduates after speaking at YES Prep

PEP graduates after speaking at YES Prep

Last week, several PEP graduates were invited to speak to the students of YES Prep in Houston. To the right is a photo of the graduates after the presentation and below are photos of the graduates in action!

The following comes from the school’s Web site:

Since we opened our doors in 1998, YES Prep has continuously redefined possible for students, families and the public education system at large. Our students are currently graduating from college at four times the rate of their peers. Today, with 13 schools in operation, serving 8,000 students throughout Houston, YES Prep is living proof that different outcomes are possible when students from low-income communities are given access to high-quality educational opportunities.

Our graduates shared their life stories and offered these young people practical advice on how to release their potential.

As we shared in this blog last week, our graduates also recently spoke at the Teach for America Summit in Houston. Many of our graduates have a deep understanding of the issues that Houston’s public school students confront on a daily basis. Some even attended public school in the Houston area, so they truly know what it means to grow up in these communities.

More importantly, having been to prison, they have seen what happens when these students succumb to the negative influences around them. Our graduates can frequently share stories of how they were first arrested as children, so their testimonies can make a tremendous impact on these young people.

However, this is not a “scared straight” program.

We do not seek to change young people’s minds through tragic stories about the negative impact of drugs and crime. They have heard these before: in fact, many of our graduates grew up in families where at least one parent was in jail or in prison. Fear of going to prison did not prevent them from pursuing crime.

Rather, we believe that introducing positive male role models into these students’ lives is critical for their long-term success.

Why do we believe this?

Nearly half of PEP’s recent graduates grew up without a father in their home. While this does not excuse their crimes, it helps us to understand what contributed to their negative choices.

When they enter these schools, our graduates are modeling what it means to be a truly successful man. By sharing how they are able to earn a decent living, take care of their families and even launch their own businesses, our graduates show these students genuine alternatives to lives of crime (which are unfortunately seen in far too positive a light within many of the communities where these children live).

This effort also makes a tremendous impact on our graduates’ themselves. As we shared towards the end of last week’s blog, allowing our graduates to assert a new identity as role models helps them to deepen their own commitment to living a transformed life.

At PEP, one of our main goals is to inspire our graduates to do more than simply “repay their debt to society.” We encourage them to become lifelong givers, and these men pictured below are tremendous examples of PEP’s driving values of love, servant leadership and wise stewardship.

If you would like to bring PEP graduates to speak to your community, please contact us today.

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Graduation is the culmination of nearly six months of hard work by our participants, who were hand-selected from a pool of nearly 10,000 other men across the State of Texas to enter PEP.

PEP Class 21 Graduation
Friday, June 6th
2:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Cleveland Correctional Facility
(45 minutes North of Houston)

PEP is an entrepreneurial “boot camp” that requires graduates to complete over 1,000 hours of work while developing a complete business plan. In recognition of their accomplishments, graduates will earn a Certificate in Entrepreneurship from Baylor University (learn more about these certificates here).You can learn more about the overall PEP program here.

Come ready to celebrate their accomplishments as these men open the next chapter of their lives!

To register to attend graduation, click here. PLEASE NOTE that we must have prior authorization for all guests; you can not gain entrance to the prison without completing an RSVP form and securing approval.

To see pictures from the last graduation event, click here.

Whether or not you can attend: Please share your best piece of advice, line of encouragement or favorite quote with our graduates! Click here.

The Praline King LogoThere is nothing sweeter than the taste of redemption… especially when it comes in the form of homemade candy!

Ronald T. graduated last June from the Prison Entrepreneurship Program. He was released from prison in August 2013, moved immediately into a PEP transition house in the Dallas area and quickly found a great job working for another PEP brother’s business. Everything seemed headed in the right direction … but there was something missing.

PEP had unlocked Ronald’s passion for starting his own business. Although he knew that it would be a difficult path — particularly as he began earning more and more money in his day job as an electrician — he decided to pursue his own startup a few months after release from prison.

Thanks to the support of the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, PEP has hired a full-time Small Business Specialist to help our graduates launch, grow and sustain their own ventures. This role is filled by Wilbert Peter, an experienced entrepreneur and marketing guru (who just happens to be a former PEP graduate).

Ronald T. and Wilbert Peter

Ronald T. and Wilbert Peter

Originally from Louisiana, Ronald worked with Wilbert to turn his passion for homemade, New Orleans-style candy into a real business. Wilbert helped Ronald to develop the business plan, refine his products, launch a Web site and recruit his first customers. Wilbert also coached Ronald through the process of incorporating his business, securing all of the necessary licenses and building a solid infrastructure through his business.

“We’re not just selling candy; we’re building a brand,” says Wilbert.

With this solid foundation in place, Ronald launched The Praline King right before Christmas. His initial sales came from the PEP network, which allowed Ronald the opportunity to test the viability of his different products and refine his concept.

Earlier this year, thanks to the encouragement of Wilbert and several PEP supporters, Ronald began focusing on selling to restaurants and other companies that could carry his product. He has now landed several corporate accounts and built his monthly revenues to as high as $7,000 in a single month.

Ronald is still working full-time as an electrician, but his goal is to build his business to the point where it provides permanent jobs to himself and other PEP brothers. His aspiration is to place his products in restaurants and grocery stores nationwide, where his remarkable recipes can take the taste of his hometown around the country.

Please check out The Praline King – “it’s like Mardi Gras in your mouth!”

Selling with Purpose

Selling with Purpose

Do you love to sell? Does your heart flutter at the thought of closing a deal or winning a new customer?

If so — the Prison Entrepreneurship Program needs you!

We are seeking a executive volunteers (particularly those with sales experience!) to join us for Class 21′s “Selling with Purpose” event will be on Friday, April 25, 2014 from 11:30am-5:00pm at the Cleveland Correctional Center in Cleveland, Texas (about 45 minutes North of Houston).

Our “Selling Night” event gives our participants the opportunity to present their Business Plan to you as a potential customer. This fast-paced event involves volunteers hearing one-on-one “sales pitches” in a speed-dating format. You then grade the presenters so that they can strengthen their approach over the final months of the program, all in preparation for the ultimate test before graduation.

See schedule to RSVP here.