The following was written by incarcerated men who are participating in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program‘s Class 22 “Business Plan Competition.”

Week in Review: Week 6

Monday (11 August 2014)

It is an unavoidable and necessary reality that on Mondays our class gets a little smaller. For some, their journey is not yet one of the challenges being conquered through self-examination and a peer-driven curriculum. PEP is not for everyone and that is alright.

At this point, all of us are getting more familiar with all the procedures of Toastmasters, and we are able to execute our roles assigned by the elected officers. The speeches are getting better and the nerves are settling, week by week. Content and confidence permeate each session. Monday is also another great time for us to utilize the computer lab and learn how to operate some of the programs. These skills are new for some and simply a review for others. At the end of each class, we get the much-needed time to look through market research for our business plans.

Tuesday (12 August 2014)

we must live together as brothers or perish together as fools

Members of a prior class.

What is a day off for those in PEP? It’s time to study for Wednesday’s tests and keep honing our Venture Capital Panel (V.C.P.) presentation for Friday which looms just over the horizon. Groups form in the dorms where orange folders brighten up the normally drab atmosphere of the dayroom. The conversations about business and tests are floated around and food is shared; unity through a common journey is developed. We are not Black, White, Hispanic or Asian; we are all brothers who want to cross the finish line and leave nobody behind. PEP is always a force of motion and it stops for no one. As Class 22 proceeds toward graduation, our environment is changed by the arrival of those slated for Class 23. They are the ones who will follow in our footsteps as they shake off the “coach ride” courtesy of TDCJ. It’s custom for graduates and participants to greet the new arrivals with a friendly welcome. This is not done in a normal TDC setting, so everyone is a bit reluctant and cautious. Soon they realize that this a different kind of life, and the journey is just beginning.

Wednesday (13 August 2014)

This day of the week seems to always come quickly and with it the nervousness of test day. Participants enter the room and collect their name badges, ready to meet and greet one another. After a few minutes everyone jockeys for position in the homework line. All assignments must be turned in before pray-in to avoid more homework. After the inspirational reading, we all sit down and put everything under our seats. Clipboards are passed out along with the tests and — for those who are unprepared — the much-anticipated reckoning becomes a reality. Silence is broken only by writing instruments scratching across paper. Each person knows that his fate this week depends on his performance: we each need to score a 70 or better. All those who fail to meet the mark will inevitably have a sore hand due to lots of writing.

As always, we rise to our feet having completed the test to greet and welcome Bert S. so we can start the day’s lesson. There is no avoiding the fact that the curriculum is becoming more challenging and demanding more thought. This sparks a lot of class discussion on competitive advantage, market strategy and all things business. The “Issues and Tissues” session always brings about the same result: smiles and frowns.

Thursday (14 August 2014)

Class 21 VCP

A Prior Participant Receives Feedback on His Pitch From Executive Volunteers.

Pitches and paperwork were the order of the day for Class 22. Some volunteered to go before the class and practice their pitch while others were chosen. Most were great and showed much thought, preparation and practice. Some needed a little more development before the upcoming event. If one of our brothers went before the class and started to freeze up, we would clap and cheer as a demonstration of solidarity in moments of struggle. Sometimes this is all that is needed to motivate and inspire. The end of the day was met with cheers as we were reminded of the importance of the following day. V.C.P. was no longer a date to think about, but a reality less than 24 hours away. It will take nerves of steel to get a good night sleep tonight.

Friday (15 August 2014)

The day has come and with it all the excitement and nerves that always seem to be part of the vibe during events. Everyone was in his best pair of pajamas and ready to present a brief 2 ½ to 3 minute synopsis on his business plan to grab the attention of the executives and hopefully start a dialogue. However, before all of the festivities started we were all given something to add to our arsenal of professionalism: business cards. Our pictures were cast alongside our business name and jingle giving us the first tangible piece of evidence toward what we hope to accomplish. The majority of us have never had a business card and it brought an overwhelming sense of earned pride. It wasn’t long before the music started and the lights were flashing for the executives who were starting to file into the PEP room. They were met with high fives, handshakes and cheers as we prepared to start our second event. It was not long before Bert grabbed the microphone and took charge of the situation to bring order and organization. After the dance team showed their moves and an overview of the day was explained, we were all counted and separated into our room assignments. Each member of the panel would be given an evaluation sheet to help the participants improve their performance. The day closed with more dancing and cheers. Heartfelt stories were told by participants as well as volunteers, and it was hard to avoid the emotions that flooded the room. You can’t experience this anywhere else in the world.

Saturday (16 August 2014)

No rest for the weary; we were called out to the PEP room early Saturday morning for our third event. We had an opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with the volunteers in order to discuss our concepts or just build bonds. The mood in the PEP room was energetic as always, but with a drowsy side. Thanks to loud music, servant-leaders and Pat M’s dance motivation routine, the energy was turned up. We saw new faces as the executives were greeted, and most were a little nervous and still not sure what to expect from over a hundred men in blue pajamas acting so happy. A lot of the new faces represent Teach for America. This group of dedicated volunteers have taken typical educational placement and thrown all the rules out the window in order to make an impact in areas where some will not venture. Needless to say, they inspired us. It was obvious that they have the skills and compassion to teach even the hardest cases with their ability to listen and nurture others. Everyone gained great feedback from the great minds that volunteer to come and add value to our lives.


every man dies but not every man truly lives

Image from prior class.

Another week in the books as we all take in all that has taken place in the last few days. You never know what to expect from PEP. The most unlikely people will speak life into you, and it will change your whole outlook. Never did anyone come to this program thinking that it would impact them in the way that it has already in just a few short months. The revolution that we have all embraced as our own is making the impossible seem possible, one day at a time. From servant-leaders to Class 23 participants just arriving on the Unit, we are a band of brothers becoming the men we were created to be, and each one is an important piece of the puzzle. It will not be complete if one is missing. So we will stay the course and never give up! The work is definitely worth the reward.


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