The following was written by Sara Blair Matthews, who served as PEP’s first Creative Writing Instructor this past summer. .


sara blair matthews

I’m willing to wager that I have more prison experience than the average twenty one year old. I’ve been in four different units, interacted closely with around eighty prisoners, and have taught three creative writing courses. I’ve walked through metal security detectors more times than I can count, encountered dozens of questioning stares from guards, and have even gotten to walk across a few prison campuses on my own.  My family and friends have gotten used to hearing, “I’ll call you when I get out of prison” or “I had an amazing day in the unit!” However, few, if any, of them truly understand what it’s like to interact with incarcerated individuals day in and day out and see how they can change not only their lives but also the lives of volunteers each and every day.

After we met at a prison education conference, PEP’s CEO Bert Smith offered me a job with PEP. He felt that my passion for writing and innovation in starting a creative writing course at Muncy women’s prison (near my alma mater Bucknell University) could be an asset to PEP’s curriculum. After learning more about the company from my father, who had volunteered as a mentor a few years back, I eagerly accepted his offer and set about creating a syllabus that incorporated my love of literature and writing with PEP’s governing philosophy and driving values.

Although I had previously taught two creative writing courses at Muncy Women’s Prison, I was nervous about leading this course at a men’s unit. I wondered if they would be as open as the women were about sharing their stories and exploring their emotions. I scrutinized my syllabus and wondered if they would balk at some of the more dense readings like Henry David Thoreau’s Walden or poetry from Shakespeare. I prayed a lot in the weeks prior to my class and asked God to be with me during this time. I invited him into my heart to teach these men the power of mastering their emotions as well as their past and present through the writing process.

I immediately found that the men in my class were extremely open, intelligent, and eager to soak up what I taught them. They began to open up to me through their writing, and I grew more and more amazed by PEP’s ability to transform these men’s past traumas into power and determination to create a better future for themselves and their families.

Near one of our last classes, one of the guys asked me if they would all be getting certificates for completing the course. I told him that they would and that I was working on putting them together over the next few days. I told them it would be a great thing to show to future employers or maybe hang in their offices one day. The man who asked the question said that yes, this was true, but he really wanted the certificate, so he could have my signature on record. He said, “I know you’re going be a big shot writer some day, and I want to have proof that I took a class with you.” All the men chimed in and said “Yeah, remember us when you make it big.”

It was such an amazing moment for me- to look around the room and see all their love and support. I remember thinking that only my very closest family and friends were this vocal about their belief in me, and it rendered me speechless that these men were so appreciative and cared so much. I knew right then and there that if they channeled this much positivity, support, and love into their relationships on the outside that these men would make it out of the prison gates and into God’s everlasting kingdom.

Image via Lexington Herald-Leader

In an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader, Bobby Clark cited PEP as an inspiration for his work with hard-to-employ youth:

http://www.kentucky.com/2014/10/20/3490443/tom-martin-qa-nonprofit-focuses.html?sp=/99/101/

Tom Martin: Another focus of yours that could also be taken as “sustainability” is helping difficult-to-employ people create their own jobs. How does that work?

Bobby Clark: Back in 2009, I created the Sustainable Business Ventures nonprofit to focus on helping 16- to 24-year-old students learn how to develop a business plan so that they could pursue their own passion through a business enterprise, but with a focus on sustainability.

Well, that adapted to learning about a program in Texas called the Prison Entrepreneurship Program where they’re working with inmates in prison to help them through an extensive program of entrepreneurship to create the skill set that they’re going to need when they get out. Seventy percent of employers will not hire an ex-offender and what we want to do is empower these men and women when they get out with the ability to start their own business: teach problem-solving, critical thinking, team-building, selling yourself. Part of the problem, after you come out of prison is you’re really down and you’re having difficulty presenting yourself. This is a way to empower those folks to do that. In Texas, they’ve been running this program for almost 10 years. The national recidivism rate is 46.8 percent of those leaving prison will re-incarcerate within three years. The program down in Texas has a five percent recidivism rate.

The following was written by PEP Class 15 graduate, David F. David is also a loyal donor to PEP.


 

David F

David F.

“I’ve never been out of jail or prison for more than a year at a time. Praise God, I have now been a free man for three years and counting!

I have accomplished many things since my release, things the old me would have never thought were possible.

At the age of 40, I acquired my first credit card and I was able to finance a vehicle through my bank. I was able to do these things because of lessons I learned in PEP. They taught me how to establish credit, and as a result of that training, my credit score has gone up 150 points!

I am also a legitimate business man today. I have obtained my DBA and I now have a business account. My plan is to be open for business by the end of 2015.

I know PEP was sent into my life by God. They have shown me the kind of love and affection no one ever has. PEP gave me a ride to work for three months when I had no other means of transportation. They allowed me to borrow a vehicle to take my driving exam and purchased work clothes for me when I became employed. PEP was as committed to my success as I was.

I always have someone to talk to within the organization if I need counsel, or just need to share. They flew my mother and two sisters in from Orlando, Florida just to see me graduate. PEP donors even provided them with a rental car!

I would like to thank PEP for my transformation. Without them, I would not be where I am today.”

David F.
Class 15 Graduate

September 22 newsletter_Final

CLICK HERE to download “PEP Chronicle – Class 22 – 2014-09″

Each month, the incarcerated men in our program work together to create a newsletter about their experience in PEP. Here is the third “PEP Chronicle” from Class #Transcendent 22!

Articles include:

  • Review for the recent “Excellence in Etiquette” event in prison;
  • Recent prison visit by a highly successful business leader who traveled to Texas to learn about PEP and speak to our participants;
  • Board chairmen, Mike Humphrey, who teaches several Harvard MBA case studies in our program;
  • Colleen Rickenbacher, international etiquette guru, who teaches a class in our prison
  • Farewell to PEP Executive Relations Manager, Al Massey
  • Lesson on EOU … “Economics of One Unit”
  • “Where are they now” …. a feature on two recently released graduates.

Click to download PEP Chronicle – September 2014

nacogdoches rotary

Brad C. and two PEP volunteers, Sherry P. and Carl. P, with a leader of the Rotary Club of Nacogdoches

The PEP Revolution rolls on … into Nacogdoches, Texas!

The local Rotary Club invited one of our graduates and two of our volunteers to share their story with the member of the club. Pictured here are the presenters, who spoke to over 100 people in an event that was later broadcast on television through KTRE (click here for the video).

(To learn more about Sherry’s son Kevin, read his guest blog here or watch his video here)

We are so very grateful for the many people who join us in our effort to transform the prison system.

 

Please take a moment to watch the video below … and then share it!



Nacogdoches couple touts prison entrepreneurship program that changed son's life
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The following was written by PEP Class 13 graduate, Lance N.


lance nI thought doing my time in prison and getting my life in order when I came home would be something I could handle alone. Then PEP came into my life. When I arrived at PEP, I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into, much less what was in store for me. There was so much to study! So much homework, and there were tests, too. Then came the events where I met the executives and staff. I was blown away by all of the knowledge, love, and support that PEP offered me. I saw myself change so much as I finished my time in prison and grew with PEP.

When it was time to leave prison, I had no home to go to. PEP picked me up, took me to eat, gave me a re-entry gift, and took me home to a PEP transitional house. PEP helped me to acquire new glasses, to get my driver’s license, and provided me with bus passes. Before my incarceration, my work experience had been primarily white collar so I had a difficult time finding a job after my release. But PEP helped me get my first job. I continued to grow and to learn as I attended and graduated from eSchool. Thanks to PEP, I am now a very different person in many positive ways.

In thanks for everything PEP has done and continues to do, I give back with my time, and also my monthly donations as a PEP Partner. Looking back, I see that I couldn’t have successfully transitioned by myself. Thank you PEP… for everything.

Lance N.
PEP Class 13

We just added two more names to the list from a few days ago. Thank you for your help — you are the key to helping PEP graduates finds employment!

PEP supporters provide valuable introductions to prospective employers as well as endorsements for our graduates. Here are the current graduates seeking employment. For information on any of these gentlemen (including their resumes), contact the Re-Entry Coordinator below.

Dallas Area

Charles B. (DALLAS AREA)

NAME: Charles B.

RELEASED DATE: 9-23-2014

TYPE OF WORK HE IS SEEKING: Food service, Warehouse

EXPERIENCE/SKILLS: Food Service; Forklift; Janitorial; Landscaping; Management-Food Service; Mover; Sales-Consumer; Warehouse

CONTACT: PEP Re-Entry Coordinator Bryan Kelley can provide resume and more info. Contact him at BKelley@PEP.org.

Enrique P. (DALLAS AREA)

NAME: Charles B.

RELEASED DATE: 10-1-2014

TYPE OF WORK HE IS SEEKING: Open to any opportunity.

EXPERIENCE/SKILLS: Construction; Food Service; Forklift; Janitorial; Landscaping; MS Office; Painter; Roofing; Telemarketing

CONTACT: PEP Re-Entry Coordinator Bryan Kelley can provide resume and more info. Contact him at BKelley@PEP.org.

Houston Area

Torrey C. (HOUSTON AREA)

NAME: Torrey C.

RELEASE DATE: 9/18/2013

TYPE OF WORK SEEKING: Non-destructive Testing/Quality Control

EXPERIENCE/SKILLS: Non-destructive Testing, Machine Operator, Construction, Sales

CONTACT: PEP Re-Entry Coordinator Harvey Mai can provide resume and more info. Contact him at HMai@PEP.org.

Horace C. (HOUSTON AREA)

NAME: Horace C.

RELEASE DATE: 10/7/2008

TYPE OF WORK SEEKING: Accounting/Financial Analyst

EXPERIENCE/SKILLS: International Financial Analyst, Accounting (BBA), Logistics, MS Office,

CONTACT: PEP Re-Entry Coordinator Harvey Mai can provide resume and more info. Contact him at HMai@PEP.org.

John E. (HOUSTON AREA)

NAME: John E.

RELEASED DATE: 9-11-2014

TYPE OF WORK HE IS SEEKING: Microsoft program related; eventually aims to start his own aquarium business.

EXPERIENCE/SKILLS: Auto-Audio or Body; Carpentry; Construction; Food Service; Management-Construction Projects; Painter; Management- Food Service

CONTACT: PEP Re-Entry Coordinator Max Han can provide resume and more info. Contact him at MHan@PEP.org.

Jeremy H. (HOUSTON AREA)

NAME: Jeremy H.

RELEASED DATE: 9-11-2014

TYPE OF WORK HE IS SEEKING: Open to any opportunity; eventually aims to go to Ocean Corp.

EXPERIENCE/SKILLS: Food Service; Forklift; Management-Food Service; Management-General; Management-Warehouse; MS Office; Telemarketing; Warehouse

CONTACT: PEP Re-Entry Coordinator Luis Alanis can provide resume and more info. Contact him at LAlanis@PEP.org.

Randy M. (HOUSTON AREA)

NAME: Randy M.

RELEASED DATE: 9-29-2014

TYPE OF WORK HE IS SEEKING: Education; eventually aims to become a Master Electrician.

EXPERIENCE/SKILLS: Auto-Audio or Body; Auto-Mechanic; Carpentry; Construction; Electrician; Janitorial; Management-Construction Projects; Military Service; Mover

CONTACT: PEP Re-Entry Coordinator Harvey Mai can provide resume and more info. Contact him at HMai@PEP.org.

Jason W. (HOUSTON AREA)

NAME: Jason W.

RELEASED DATE: 10-2-2014

TYPE OF WORK HE IS SEEKING: Clerical or food service; eventually aims to become a Master Chef.

EXPERIENCE/SKILLS: Clerical; Food Service; Heavy Equipment Operator; Janitorial; Landscaping; Mover; Painter; Sales-Consumer

CONTACT: PEP Re-Entry Coordinator Max Han can provide resume and more info. Contact him at MHan@PEP.org.

The following was written by PEP Class 19 graduate, Adam C.


adam cI never thought I would be so successful, though this success has nothing to do with how much money I have, where I live or what school I attend. My success is measured by every moment I get to live, move and breath freedom.

Freedom to start again, freedom to choose again, freedom to redemption…

Being released from prison did not give me that. Though I was released from prison, this did not make me free. With the help of PEP, executive volunteers and my brothers, freedom came from the inside.

I have heard it said that the heart of the problem is not with man, but the problem with man is his heart. With my heart turned towards things like drugs, the wrong friends and a criminal lifestyle, I had no choice but to find myself within the confinements of a prison cell at 17 for six and a half years of my life, serving time for robbery and burglary of a habitation.

The issues of my life sprung forth from my heart and I am not alone. The youngest of three brothers, I am bearing the burden of redeeming the heart. With my eldest passing away from a fatal gunshot wound while I was in prison, and my other brother facing the consequence of a life sentence, I had no hope that beauty could rise from the ashes of this brokenhearted young man.

Today, closing in on one year after being released from prison, and thanks to PEP’s re-entry team, I am gainfully employed by my boss and brother Jeff, a PEP Class 8 graduate himself. I have been able to finance my very first car and gain my very first apartment I call home. I have a new affection.

I am thankful I chose accountability. I am thankful PEP chose me and grateful to those who make this life change possible for men like me. And I would guess that if you are reading this, you are one of those people. So, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

 

Adam C.

PEP Class 19

Below is a press release from Bridgeway about our 2014 Volunteer Keith Okano (pictured).


 

Bridgeway's Keith Okano with the finalists of PEP's Class 21 Business Plan Competition

Bridgeway’s Keith Okano with the finalists of PEP’s Class 21 Business Plan Competition

HOUSTON, Oct. 8, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — Bridgeway Software, the most recommended provider of legal services management solutions, today announced that president Keith Okano was named Houston 2014 Volunteer of the Year by the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP). Established in 2004, PEP is a Houston-based nonprofit organization that operates as a public-private partnership with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. PEP has pioneered innovative programs that connect the nation’s top executives, entrepreneurs, and MBA students with convicted felons.

“I strongly believe in second chances, particularly with programs that help people who want to help themselves,” said Keith Okano, president of Bridgeway Software. “As positive advocates of change, PEP’s goal is to be on the front line, diving into the source of the problem and reclaiming the human spirit.  I am honored to be associated with such an important organization and to helping these men discover their untapped potential.”

A former member of PEP’s Houston Advisory Board, Mr. Okano has volunteered in prison more than 30 days in the past three years alone. He has also served as a business plan advisor for four incarcerated men; one of whom won PEP’s business plan competition thanks in large part to Keith’s support. Outside of prison, he has served as a mentor to a released graduate and taught classes in PEP’s eSchool program—a continuing education program offered to released graduates. Beyond volunteering, Keith has been a faithful donor and outspoken advocate for PEP in the community.  He has brought friends and coworkers to visit prisons, and even travelled to North Texas to speak to a group of students from the University of North Texas about his involvement in PEP.

Keith Okano models servant leadership, humility, and generosity in a way that makes an enormous impact on everyone around him including those who are incarcerated and his fellow volunteers. We are very proud to recognize him as our 2014 Houston Volunteer of the Year,” said Bert Smith, CEO of PEP.

PEP’s entrepreneurship boot camp and re-entry programs are proven solutions for preventing recidivism, maximizing self-sufficiency and transforming broken lives. According to a recent study from Baylor University, PEP out-performs all nine of the state’s other major prison rehabilitation programs while delivering a 340% ROI for every dollar invested by private donors.

One of the major reasons for PEP’s success is it engages nearly one thousand different volunteers each year as either in-prison volunteers, remote business plan advisors, or “free world” volunteers. These amazing servant leaders provide critical support to PEP and ensure that it can continue to deliver best-in-class results while maximizing the impact of the community’s financial support.

“Keith is a wonderful source of encouragement and wise counsel for our men,” said Kristie Wisniewski, Chief of Staff for PEP. “Keith is a man of few words, is very deep and thinks carefully before speaking. He reminds me of Albert Einstein’s quote, ‘Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.’ I think Keith is a man of value to his family, his co-workers and to PEP, and we are honored to name him our volunteer of the year.”

About the Prison Entrepreneurship Program
Established in 2004, the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) is a Houston-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The program’s mission is to transform inmates and executives by unlocking human potential through entrepreneurial passion, education, and mentoring.  PEP’s groundbreaking results include a return-to-prison rate of less than 5%, employment rate of 100% within 90 days, and the successful launch of more than 100 businesses. To learn more, visit http://www.pep.org.

About Bridgeway
Bridgeway is dedicated to providing software solutions and professional services to implement best practices for the offices of the general counsel and corporate secretary. Most recommended by clients, Bridgeway enables leading corporations and government agencies to optimize productivity, reduce cost, and mitigate risk with an integrated technology approach for legal services management. Bridgeway implements systems in the areas of matter and case management, electronic invoicing, cost management, corporate governance, contract management, litigation risk assessment, and entity management. Founded in 1989, the company is headquartered in Houston, Texas with representative offices in Philadelphia and Toronto. More information about eCounsel®, LawManager®, Smart InvoiceCorridor™, Bridgeway Legal Hold, and Secretariat® is available at www.bridge-way.com or by calling 888-272-4699.

SOURCE Bridgeway Software

The following was written by PEP volunteer, John Selzer, the Founding Director at Septariate (a company that he was inspired to launch through his involvement with PEP’s aspiring entrepreneurs).


John Selzer of Septariate

John Selzer speaking with participants of the PEP Leadership Academy in prison

I recently had the privilege to attend the Leadership Academy launch event at the Sanders Estes Unit in Venus, the site of PEP’s expansion into North Texas.  To me, this day was truly representative of the transformative power of this organization.  Our time was spent in what will become the dedicated PEP room.  The walls were painted white with fresh primer, awaiting the bright colors to come.  The floors were bare concrete, not yet covered in carpet.  The Ten Driving Values had not yet been posted in their typically prominent location.  It was almost poetic to have that perfectly blank slate.

Typically, executive volunteers are not introduced to program participants until the Leadership Academy is completed.  What a gift to meet and interact with the Investigators at this stage, most of whom were still struggling with their commitment to the program or whether or not they are “worth it” or “deserve this opportunity”.  It was PEP in its more pure and raw form.  Throughout the course of the day, the trepidation and uncertainty melted away and you could see – no, feel – the change in the room.  It was palpable – and electric.  I am not certain if the participants or the executive volunteers were more affected by the experience.  I still get chills thinking about it.

In the span of only four hours, a room full of skeptical, and still a little wary, participants broke through their doubts and embraced the power of PEP and left with a sense of purpose and a newfound optimism that they can take control of their future.  And maybe most importantly, they realized that they do not have to do it alone.  They now have a deep and mutually supportive connection to their brothers in the program and access to a broad network of executive volunteers that are there for them in prison and waiting upon their release.  For someone that has never been given anything without strings attached, this is a profound offering.  PEP represents an inflexion point in their lives.  That day at Sanders Estes, we witnessed the turn and the beginning of the upward slope.  That is powerful, and simply transformational, stuff.  What an incredible honor to have been a part of it.

My experience with PEP has been one of the most meaningful things I have ever done.

I leave each event feeling uplifted, hopeful, inspired and introspective.  It was during one drive home from Cleveland that I realized that I wanted to divert from my safe and secure career path to take a shot at the entrepreneur life.  Although this new chapter in my life is still being drafted, I hope that it affords me the opportunity to employ and mentor PEP graduates in a new way.  Regardless, I know that I will continue to be a regular at the Cleveland and Sanders Estes units.  I hope to see you in prison.

- John Selzer, Founding Director of Septariate, LLC