PEP was recently filmed by the Charles Koch Institute, and the video was shown at its Advancing Justice Conference this month in New Orleans! Check it out to hear PEP staff members, graduates and participants explain how our organization is making a dent in a system that wants to forever keep felons under its thumb.

PEP cited in the Washington Post!

Posted: October 29, 2015 in About PEP

PEP Board Member and former state senator, Jeff Smith, spent a year in federal prison. Read on to discover what he learned, or click here for the full story.

washington post

On Oct. 1, a bipartisan group of senators introduced an omnibus bill that aims to yank our criminal justice system out of the “tough on crime” era that slammed shut the doors on a generation of offenders. Hailed by some, the federal “Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act” would do all this and more: reduce mandatory minimum sentences for many drug crimes, retroactively get rid of the differences in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine, seal and expunge more juvenile records, limit solitary confinement for juvenile offenders, offer compassionate release for elderly prisoners, and reduce sentences if a prisoner gets involved in programs that have in the past reduced recidivism.

The senators modeled their reforms on what some states have shown to reduce recidivism, eased reentry and saved money.

I have looked at this subject from more angles than most. I’ve been a state senator. I’ve been a federal prisoner. I’m now a public policy professor with a new book on the subject.

And like others, I’ve concluded that U.S. prisons create better criminals, not better people – which is very costly not just to those who will be re-incarcerated, but to taxpayers, to all of us with whom former prisoners will live when they are released, and to anyone concerned with public safety.

The bill that aims to incrementally reform sentencing is a good first step toward reintegrating former prisoners into society. But to have lasting impact, we must transform prison culture itself.

What do studies of recidivism say?

The main reason people re-offend is financial struggle. Most ex-offenders are unemployed because they didn’t go far in school, they can’t show much in the way of a work history, and they were convicted of crimes before. But seeking legitimate work can seem laughable when most employers won’t hire ex-prisoners.

Here’s one approach to getting them jobs: prison education, which will help them succeed in a tightening labor market.

And succeed they should. The natural ingenuity of prisoners – especially those who once managed successful (illicit) businesses – suggests that education to become entrepreneurs in legitimate industries would be ideal. Indeed, I witnessed extraordinary entrepreneurial efforts while I was behind bars.

What are prison hustles, and what do they suggest?

Conventional wisdom is that prisoners have it made – “three hots and a cot” – but the reality is more complex. At the federal prison in Manchester, Ky., we received a monthly allowance: a week’s worth of toothpaste and a thin bar of cheap soap about the size of a credit card. If you wanted anything else to improve your hygiene while living virtually on top of hundreds of other sweaty men, you had to fend for yourself.

[Phone calls won’t cost up to $14/minute any more but here’s how prisoners’ families are still being fleeced]

That’s not counting what we might want to spend on paper, pens or stamps, money for phone calls to loved ones (often more than $1/minute, thanks to greedy prison phone companies and commission-hungry wardens). My $5.25 a month for full-time work on the warehouse loading dock didn’t go far. I had savings to cushion me. Few had that luxury.

Since the wages we earned from prison jobs were scarcely enough to survive, hustling was the only option available for most. “Dred” was one of my many fellow prisoners whose hustle showed real entrepreneurial ingenuity. From the cell next door, he ran a bustling Jamaican eatery, serving delicious meals cooked with ingredients pilfered (sometimes by me) from the prison’s warehouse. He sold meals for stamps, mackerel, cigarettes, or occasionally, pornography, and analyzed the relative profitability of meals based on the price he paid for ingredients — no mean feat given the number of currencies in which he traded.

Prison was teeming with ambitious men like Dred who wanted to fly straight, and there probably wasn’t a single concept taught at the Wharton School that he didn’t grasp. Yet there were no mechanisms to help men translate their intuitive grasp of business into legitimate enterprises. Decent prison educational programs are rare, and the 2008-2009 recession accelerated a decades-long austerity trend, as legislators cut “non-essential” prison services like vocational training.

How can we leverage prisoners’ inmate talents?

Upon their release, 650,000 people annually land on America’s doorsteps to try to succeed in communities where they once failed — now with the added baggage of prison records. Nearly three-quarters will re-offend. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, given a penal system that has long stressed punishment over rehabilitation.

Expanding some existing programs could change this. For instance, the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) links prisoners to mentors who guide them through an intensive, seven-month MBA-level course. Prisoners build pro forma income statements, perform market research and craft full-length business plans. As their final exam, they pitch visiting potential investors. PEP’s 10-year recidivism rate is 6 percent. Several PEP startups book a million dollars in annual revenue.

[Can therapy keep young men out of crime–and prison?]

Even for prisoners lacking entrepreneurial aptitude, education makes a significant difference. A recent RAND meta-study found that prison educational program participants were far less likely to re-offend than nonparticipants, resulting in a 43 percent recidivism reduction – 85,000 fewer offenders annually, if extrapolated nationally. RAND’s findings also suggest that prison education is cost-effective: while education costs average $1,572 per inmate, reincarceration costs average $9,250 less for each prisoner who received education than for those who did not — a 6-to-1 net benefit. Other studies found similar efficiencies.

What does the current political/policy terrain look like?

An array of groups across the ideological spectrum have begun to be effective in challenging mass incarceration. Without the prospect of another election, President Obama has shown interest in reform – backing the recently-filed legislation, and issuing an executive order re-instituting Pell Grants grant for federal prisoners. Red-state senators like Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah have joined him, scrambling traditional party politics.

But given Washington gridlock, can meaningful change happen? Democrats’ most reliable voting block, African Americans, were until recently the most prominent voices on the issue. Many white Democrats had left them behind, however, assuming Bill Clinton’s “posture.” But Republicans have lately come forward. A quick analysis of the parties’ electoral coalitions helps explain why.

There are three main domestic policy wings to the modern Republican Party — fiscal conservatives, social conservatives and libertarians — and all have compelling reasons to support criminal justice reform. Budget hawks fret about $80 billion of incarceration-related expenditures annually. Religious conservatives see offenders’ potential for redemption and support more humane treatment of them. Libertarians chafe at intrusive surveillance and draconian drug laws that can incarcerate people for life after a third offense.

While Democrats decry the prison-industrial complex’s vast human toll, many actually helped build it. The Democratic Party spent much of the 1980s and ’90s struggling to shed its cartoonishly libertine 1960s image, leaving them to “outbid” Republicans to see who could be tougher on crime—especially crimes disproportionately committed by African Americans. More offenders meant more prisons. That empowered correctional officers’ unions, which would later help pass “Three Strikes” laws in more than two dozen other states, and who remain skeptical of reforms that would threaten their jobs en masse.

[If both Republicans and Democrats support sentencing reform, what stands in their way?]

The recent depoliticization of criminal justice makes reform more likely. Historically, when the parties are competing on the issue, more prisons get built. Take the region where incarceration boomed most: the South. Criminal justice issues were suppressed while conservative Democrats dominated Sunbelt states. But for the first time since the Civil War, the 1950s saw development of two-party competition with new ideological schisms. Republicans found success in affluent suburbs and later in rural areas. Liberal Democrats began supplanting old-line conservative Democrats.

Republicans like Richard Nixon emphasized wedge issues such as crime with an eye on Sunbelt voters and Electoral College hegemony. And so penal policy suffered “hyperpoliticization.”

Today the Republican Party has stopped pushing “tough on crime” policies. As a result, Democrats have little need to neutralize the issue. The new transpartisan reform coalitions lead many to predict a policy “window” that enables change.

Ambitious reformers seek to halve the prison population by 2025. It won’t be easy. Most of the 1.3 million people in state prisons committed violent crimes. Cutting in half the number of people in prison would require touching the “third rail” of penal reform by releasing not just the so-called non, non, nons — nonviolent, non-serious and non-sex-offender prisoners — but also some with histories of violence.

Reducing recidivism would require more spending on quality, rehabilitative prison education programming. And spending money on prisoners is never popular with taxpayers.

Even if high-level policy changes pass, can they be effectively implemented?

Some correctional officers (COs) taunted men who were preparing to go home, with lines like “See you in six months.” Most staff made their disdain for prisoners clear and their lack of interest in rehabilitation even clearer.

Upton Sinclair once observed that it is impossible to get a man to understand something when his livelihood depends on him not understanding it. Widespread prison education will only occur when COs no longer believe their job security depends on a continuous stream of prisoners. Prison culture can’t be transformed until society stops seeing prison as a warehouse for society’s throwaways and starts seeing it as a costly revolving door and massive waste of human potential. Scholars who have studied the influence “street level-bureaucrats” wield over policy implementation would certainly agree. A failure to transform our collective worldview essentially guarantees – just as the COs who once ruled my life sneeringly predicted – that most parolees will indeed return to prison soon.

Last week PEP CEO, Bert Smith, attended the annual Philanthropy Roundtable in Las Colinas, TX. Read on to learn why PEP is considered one of the “stars of Texas” in the nonprofit realm. To read the full story and listen to the audio, click here.

Donating to charity is big business. Last year, $358 billion was given out and 80 percent of that came from individuals. The Philanthropy Roundtable is a national nonprofit that helps donors give wisely.

That group’s in Las Colinas for its annual meeting. And some standout North Texas groups were invited too.


Nonprofits are built on passion and ideals. They can only survive with support.

For example, CEO Heather Reynolds says it takes an annual budget of $28 million to run Catholic Charities Fort Worth.

“That pays for 400 staff and all costs associated with that as well as direct assistance for clients, and that allows us to serve about 100,000 clients each year,” she says.

By doing things like paying for utility bills, credit counseling, hosting dental clinics and job training.

“We’re a business at Catholic Charities Fort Worth, we just happen to be in the business of helping people,” Reynolds says.

Another North Texas nonprofit, the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, helps inmates develop an original business plan. During the first year felons get out of prison, their unemployment rate hovers close to 60 percent.

“Every one of our graduates for five years running has found his first job or started a business within 90 days of release, every one of them,” says Bert Smith, who heads up the program.

Smith and Heather Reynolds were both invited to speak at the Philanthropy Roundtable’s annual meeting — their organizations were highlighted as “stars of Texas.”

Connecting big donors with well-run nonprofits is the whole point of this meeting. Jo Kwong, the Roundtable’s director of economic opportunity, says handing out money isn’t as easy as it sounds.

“When you have money to give away everyone’s your best friend,” she says. “So you can just respond to everybody who comes to your door or you could think about what’s the problem you want to solve?”

Only donors who give $100,000 or more a year are allowed to attend this meeting — groups like the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation from Kansas City and the Connelly Foundation from Philadelphia.

Despite the presence of half a dozen Texas nonprofits, it’s not a sales pitch. It’s about learning how to invest wisely and also sidestepping organizations that might not be above board.

“Sometimes the ones that spend a lot of money putting commercials on TV and are household names are the ones who spend all their money putting ads on TV,” Kwong says. “And then you have to dig down: What are they actually doing?”

Hopefully, good work across their community. Bert Smith says the Prison Entrepreneurship Program’s record speaks for itself.

“There are more than 200 businesses now that have been started by graduates of the program and six of them are at a scale where they will generate more than a million dollars in revenue this year,” he says.

A number even the big donor crowd can respect.

Give Today!!

Posted: September 17, 2015 in About PEP

There are less than 8 hours left for you to support PEP through North Texas Giving Day!!

North Texas Giving

To give a donation, click here.

Thank you in advance for your gift!

PEP Board Member in the News!

Posted: September 2, 2015 in About PEP

After year in jail, former State Senator condemns mass incarceration.


The first time Jeff Smith appeared on the national radar, he was the subject of the critically acclaimed documentary, “Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?,” which chronicled his 2004 campaign for the congressional seat of the retiring Dick Gephardt. Smith narrowly lost the race to Russ Carnahan, but his surprising performance in a crowded field of 10 made him a rising star in Missouri Democratic politics. Smith was elected state senator in 2006 and served until 2009, when he pleaded guilty to conspiracy for an election law violation tied to the 2004 campaign. Smith was sentenced to one year and a day in a Kentucky federal prison. He chronicles his experience in his new book, “Mr. Smith Goes to Prison: What My Year Behind Bars Taught Me About America’s Prison Crisis,” which he calls “a scathing indictment of a system that teaches prisoners to be better criminals instead of better citizens.” We speak with Smith, now an assistant professor of urban policy at The New School, about what he learned in prison and his thoughts about criminal justice reform.

Read the rest of the transcript here.

Check out our most recent write-up in the Houston Forward Times! Read the full story here.


Who really believes in giving second chances to someone who is already considered a failure?

Many people wonder about today’s society. Most do not think someone in an unfortunate circumstance could make the most of a chance they are given. Is opportunity only for the more fortunate citizens of the United States of America or can anyone rebound after getting knocked down?

Not many people can honestly say they believe in that today. However, this is not the case for the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP).

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) is a Houston-based 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization that was established in 2004. At PEP, they are servant leaders on a mission to transform inmates to executives by unlocking human potential through entrepreneurial passion, education and mentoring. Their groundbreaking results include a return-to-prison rate of less than 7%, an employment rate of 100% within 90 days of release and over 185 businesses launched by graduates of the program. They have pioneered innovative programs that connect the nation’s top executives, entrepreneurs and MBA students with convicted felons.

PEP’s team knows from experience that prison is a storehouse of untapped potential. Many inmates come to prison as seasoned entrepreneurs who happened to run illegitimate businesses. Once equipped with education and life skills training, the ROI potential for the truly reformed prisoner, his family and his community is limitless.

Charles Hearne is the Houston Executive Relations Manager for PEP, and believes the program continues to make a great impact in our communities.

“Our entrepreneurship boot camp and re-entry programs, which include spiritual and character development courses, are proven for maximizing self-sufficiency and transforming broken lives,” said Hearne.

Former Wall Street professional Catherine Rohr founded PEP in May of 2004 after she toured a prison and noticed that executives and inmates had more in common than most would think. They know how to manage others to get things done.

Rohr wondered what would happen if inmates who were committed to their own transformation were equipped to start and run legitimate companies. Following an unusual calling, Rohr left behind her New York career and financial stability, moved to Texas started a one-of-a-kind “behind bars” business plan competition. Her efforts were geared toward channeling the entrepreneurial passions and influential personalities of the inmates—intentionally recruiting former gang leaders, drug dealers and hustlers.

She quickly realized the entrepreneurial ability of the men inside of those prisons and wanted a way to show how successful those men could be on the other side if they were cultivated correctly.

Even the most unsophisticated drug dealers inherently understand business concepts such as competition, profitability, risk management and proprietary sales channels. For both executives and inmates, passion is instinctive.

The overwhelming response of 55 inmates and 15 world-class executives to judge the business plans and presentations was the catalyst to launch the Prison Entrepreneurship Program.

While Rohr resigned in 2009, the organization has continued to grow and prosper. PEP now graduates more men than ever before, and the results are better than ever and remain the best in the prison rehabilitation field.

PEP has been picking up steam and has come a long way since 2004. Although based in Cleveland, TX, PEP is associated with prisons in other states that have embraced this revolutionary idea.

“The goal is to affect the tipping point in Texas prisons,” said Hearne. “About 43,000 men are released throughout the year in Texas prisons. We want to be in a situation where we are affecting about 10 percent of those men. So essentially we want to affect about 4,300 men a year.”

PEP has only two units and roughly graduates 300 men per year. Although they have not fully met their target goal, they are getting closer.

Many of the men who go through PEP have amazing ideas. Some have wanted to open meat markets, while others have wanted to open pool companies.

“Some of the men have actually owned businesses before and already have legitimate business knowledge,” said Hearne. “Those men would take their own business plan, revamp it and use that information and knowledge to build a business they already had information on.”

PEP has established more than 200 different businesses, and of those 200, at least 6 of them will be performing at the million dollar revenue range by the end of the year.

A true testimony on how PEP has helped different individuals get up after being knocked down in life is Hearne, who not only serves as the Executive Relations Manager, but is also a former participant in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the Prison Entrepreneurship Program.” said Hearne. “I’ve been out of the program for a little more than two years and I’d already made up my mind after I got incarcerated that the things I was doing wasn’t working for me. So it was time to have a change of heart, a change of surroundings and do things differently. Being a part of PEP set me on a trajectory faster than what I could have accomplished on my own. In the 2 ½ years I have been out, I have completed about 5 semesters of college and will be graduating next spring. I have given back to the community in different ways, such as community engagement and volunteer services. I have become a true contributor to society by way of Prison Entrepreneurship Program.”

PEP is an outstanding program that has directly and indirectly helped thousands of lives every year since it was established.

If you are looking for more information, or if you know someone who could use helpful information about this program, please visit to learn more about the program.

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program has proven that everyone deserves a second chance, and more importantly, you should never judge a book by its cover.

Attention all PEP Volunteers!!!

Posted: August 6, 2015 in About PEP

Hopefully you know by now that you are only allowed four visits to prison before TDCJ Volunteer Training is required. Following are a few TDCJ Volunteer Training dates for both the Houston and Dallas areas over the next several weeks. If you aren’t trained, please make an effort to become trained and be sure to let us know when you complete the course so we can track your visits appropriately and stay in the good graces of our hosts.

Saturday, August 15 – from 9A-1P at True Love Christian Church
40 Wilson Road, Humble, TX 77338
Phone 281 454 5036

Saturday, August 15 and Saturday, September 19 from 9A-1P at the Carol Vance Unit
2 Jester Rd, Richmond, TX 77469
Call to confirm training is still on and there’s room for you … 281 340 8729

Saturday, September 12 from Noon-4P at The Crowne Plaza Suites Hotel
9090 SW Freeway, Houston, TX 77074
(Main Ballroom – Ask Hotel Staff)

Saturday, August 22 from 10A-2P at Concord Church
6808 Pastor Bailey Drive, Dallas, TX 75237
Call to confirm that training is still on and there’s room for you … 214 300 1183, the contact is Thomas Wattley

Tuesday, September 8 from 6-10P at Hutchins State Jail
1500 East Langdon Road, Dallas, TX 75241
Call to confirm training is still on and there’s room for you … 972 225 1304

Questions? Visit and go to the Quick Links section titled “Volunteer with the TDCJ” or send us an email at

Obama administration plans a 3- to 5-year test to see if college classes help reduce prison recividism. Read the full Wall Street Journal article here.


The Obama administration plans to restore federal funding for prison inmates to take college courses, a potentially controversial move that comes amid a broader push to overhaul the criminal justice system.

The plan, set to be unveiled Friday by the secretary of education and the attorney general, would allow potentially thousands of inmates in the U.S. to gain access to Pell grants, the main form of federal aid for low-income college students. The grants cover up to $5,775 a year in tuition, fees, books and other education-related expenses.

Prisoners received $34 million in Pell grants in 1993, according to figures the Department of Education provided to Congress at the time. But a year later, Congress prohibited state and federal prison inmates from getting Pell grants as part of broad anticrime legislation, leading to a sharp drop in the number of in-prison college programs. Supporters of the ban contended federal aid should only go to law-abiding citizens.

Between the mid-1990s and 2013, the U.S. prison population doubled to about 1.6 million inmates, many of them repeat offenders, Justice Department figures show. Members of both parties—including President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky—have called for a broad examination of criminal justice, such as rewriting sentencing guidelines.

A 2013 study by the Rand Corp. found that inmates who participated in education programs, including college courses, had significantly lower odds of returning to prison than inmates who didn’t.

Some congressional Democrats have proposed lifting the ban. Meanwhile, administration officials have indicated they would use a provision of the Higher Education Act that gives the Education Department the authority to temporarily waive rules, such as the Pell-grant ban, as part of an experiment to study their effectiveness.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch are expected to announce the program, which likely would last three to five years to yield data on recidivism rates, at a prison in Jessup, Md., on Friday. Key details aren’t yet clear, such as which institutions and what types of convicts would be allowed to participate.

An Education Department spokeswoman declined to comment. Asked Monday whether the agency would restore Pell grants for prisoners, Mr. Duncan told reporters, “Stay tuned.”

Stephen Steurer, head of the Correctional Education Association, an advocacy group, said two Education Department officials told him at a conference early this month the agency was moving to restore Pell grants for prisoners and allow many colleges and universities to participate. Money from the grants would directly reimburse institutions for the cost of delivering courses in prisons rather than go to prisoners, Mr. Steurer said.

“It will be substantial enough to create some data and to create enough information for some evaluation,” said Rep. Danny Davis (D., Ill.), who is co-sponsoring a bill with Rep. Donna Edwards (D., Md.) to permanently restore Pell grants for prisoners.

“I think the political landscape has actually changed since the 1990s,” said Ms. Edwards. “We haven’t really been able to get a handle on recidivism. We have to present some training and opportunities. These are programs that work.”

She said her bill would cost relatively little up front—in the tens of millions of dollars—while having the potential to cut societal costs over the long term by reducing recidivism rates. Maryland spends nearly $40,000 a year per prisoner, she said.

But spending tax dollars on college for prisoners strikes many as an affront to families that have borrowed heavily in recent years to cope with skyrocketing college costs, causing student debt to soar to $1.3 trillion. “If we really want to keep people out of prison, we need to promote education at younger ages,” said Rep. Chris Collins (R., N.Y.).

Last year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tabled a plan to use state dollars on in-prison college courses because of opposition from lawmakers. But in California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation in June that includes $12 million to promote statewide priorities, including college classes in state prison, said state Sen. Loni Hancock, whose 2014 bill paved the way for an agreement between California corrections officials and the chancellor of the state’s community colleges. Ms. Hancock said classes could begin as soon as this fall.

The administration’s plan could open the White House to new charges that it is subverting the will of Congress. The administration has been criticized for using executive powers to change immigration policy.

There are currently a limited number of college courses for prisoners that draw mostly on private funding, Mr. Steurer said. Federal funding would expand opportunities for people like Wesley Caines, 49, who left a New York prison in the spring of 2014 after serving more than two decades on a murder charge.

While incarcerated at Hudson County Correctional Facility, he used a privately funded program to earn an associate degree, then a bachelor’s and a master’s, after studying the work of Nietzsche and W.E.B. Du Bois. He’s now working for a Brooklyn firm helping other ex-offenders re-enter society. “Prison is perhaps one of the most dehumanizing environments that any human being could find themselves in,” he said. “One of the best ways to make transformative gains is to be educated. It’s not an abstract thing, it’s a very tangible thing. It teaches you critical thinking. It allows you to look at yourself, your choices, your behavior, and the consequences of them.”

Houston timber company, Building Products Plus, has had great success hiring PEP graduates. Read the full PR Underground article here.

PR underground

Building Products Plus, a Houston-based company that manufactures and supplies extended life structural building materials, has found success in hiring employees through the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, (PEP). Having hired seven program graduates within the last year, the company’s President, Dorian Benn, is “more than pleased” with the results of these employees. Of the seven BPP hired during the last year, five have stayed and made a real difference both in their own lives and as employees.

The PEP Program

The PEP program operates in 60+ prisons in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, with all operations based out of the Cleveland Correctional Center. In 2013 Baylor University researchers conducted a study of PEP’s results vs other similar programs in Texas. PEP outperformed the other nine rehabilitation programs’ recidivism rates by 70%.

While program members must complete and present a business plan, including a multi-year financial plan, in order to graduate, they do not have to start the business once released. They are encouraged to find employment using the skills and knowledge obtained while in the program, and that might not always be by starting their own business.

Bert Smith, CEO of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program is proud to report that since the program began 11 years ago, 185 graduates of the 1100 total have started businesses. Of those 185, four of those business are forecasted to gross $1 million, each, this year alone, as well as creating 25 jobs, combined. “Don’t judge the man by the label. Never assume he’s not capable of living a different life.” Smith says.

An “Attitude of Gratitude”

Building Products Plus is certainly an advocate for this program. They have an “attitude of gratitude” says Benn, “I don’t look at them any differently. They needed a job, we had an opening. They are grateful and eager to succeed. It’s a better life.”

One such program graduate, Rocky Arnold, was hired as a Mill Coordinator over a year ago. Since then he has been promoted to Mill Supervisor, and then to Operations Manager. He often returns to the program he is immensely thankful for and mentors those still going through the program. BPP has hired all ranges of program graduates from truck drivers to salesmen. Their training and experiences from previous jobs and education combined with life skills and spiritual connections made in the PEP are key ingredients for their success.

Smith states that there aren’t any official partnerships with specific businesses, “just good relationships forged by the graduates themselves,” which appears to work well. Based on the success of the employees at Building Products Plus, Benn intends to remain an active business partner of the PEP, and adds “The program shows them that they can have a better life. They can succeed honestly and with hard work their reintegration isn’t nearly as scary or unsure. They have a solid base and support. We’re happy we found them.”

My name is Jason and I was asked to write about my experience with PEP. When considering how a program has changed your life, it is easy to get caught up in the rites and rituals and begin to think of that program, any program, as a series of steps to be taken to reach a goal.

To me, PEP is so much more than that. To be sure, there are procedures and there are rites of passage, but I cannot look at these as mere steps; they are tools to be used, remembered, called upon in times of need, and passed on to those who come after us. PEP is a living, breathing entity embodied by the men trying to change their lives, the PEP staff, and the volunteers that offer so much encouragement.

Jason Bowles

I joined the Navy at 18, straight out of high school, and thought that I had the world pretty much figured out. The problem was that there was one thing I did not completely understand; I had no real idea of who I was. I allowed myself to be defined by the people around me and when I did not fit in with them, a few drinks made everything go a little more smoothly. I had no intention of becoming an alcoholic, but then who does?

Fast forward a couple of decades and my life was in shambles. I had spent the greater part of my adult life either on a barstool, recovering from my last hangover, or planning my next one. I knew my life was wasted and going nowhere, but I had no earthly idea how to change it, so I took the easy way and did nothing to make any improvements whatsoever. Like alcoholics the world over, I hid in a bottle and perpetuated my downward spiral.

I had never thought of myself as someone who would end up in prison and I certainly never saw incarceration as any kind of rescue. Like most of society, I viewed the penal system as a way to deal with people who did not want to play by the rules. Also like most of society, I was blind to my own hypocrisy and ignored the fact that I was no paragon of virtue.

Because of my continued alcohol abuse, I quickly learned how easily one can be sucked in and spit out by the judicial system. I also learned there is hope for everyone, no matter if they are locked in a cell by the state or locked into a pattern of self-destruction by their own choices. Hope abounds for anyone willing to work to make a better life.

For me, PEP is a life saver. I learned how much I was truly hurting myself and everyone around me by finding excuses to indulge in my weaknesses. I learned that I can be a part of a group without having to be just like everyone in it. I found out that fitting in does not mean conforming, it means contributing. Most importantly, I learned how to live with the fact that I am flawed. I have made mistakes in the past and I will make more in the future, but those mistakes do not define me; how I recover from them does.

My name is Jason and I am many things; a veteran, a son, a brother, an alcoholic, a convicted felon, a PEP graduate and a productive member of society.

Jason B.
Class 18 Graduate