Guest Blogger: Jessica Middleton (“The 11th Driving Value — Vulnerability”)

Posted: September 12, 2014 by Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) in About PEP, Guest Blogger
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The following was written by PEP volunteer, Jessica Middleton. Jessica is a Criminologist and Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology.It was originally posted here.


#PEP Reflections 8.15.14 Venture Capital Panel Class XXII – Cleveland Correctional Center

Today was absolutely phenomenal!  First of all, the 2 minute pitches I heard were terrific; sure there were some nerves running wild, as many of these guys have never given a business plan pitch in their lives, much less to a panel of well dressed, real world, should-be-too-good-for-prison professionals and executives…but the meeting of the minds today was truly the eighth wonder of the world…

The vulnerability and intimacy established this early on between the participants and the executives is really quite unbelievable.  The acceptance and anticipation today, again, exuding from both sides of the room, to me was equivalent to what you would expect at the six-month BPC/graduation mark…and we’re only ONE month in!  And the tunnel of love…WOW!  It made a complete track around the PEP room.  It was massive with 118 guys – that’s 236 hands in the air to be high fived!

During the “sweet time”, one young man shared that he nearly quit PEP just a few days ago, but a few brothers lifted him up; I can still see the arm motion he made when he said that, and then he became silent and dropped his head.  The entire room responded with a standing ovation in support. I truly believe that moment is one that he will remember for his lifetime, and I hope that next time he becomes discouraged, as we all do along the way, he will hear the holy roar of clapping and hollering and decide to get up and press on.  Now and then, there are moments when the Spirit floods the PEP room; that was one of them.

An encounter that has really been on my mind, with intrigue of course, not disturbance, was when one participant made an intentional effort to find me at the end of the day to share something that had been on his heart.  He and I got to chat one-on-one at the KickOff, so the familiarity already existed.  He said, and this is not word-for-word, it is what I can remember paraphrased:

“Ms. Jessica, I wanted to make sure to tell you something since we talked at the KickOff.  I was chatting with one of the other guys here, and I heard a little about your story.”  He takes a deep breath and then continues, “My daughter is in a similar situation.  She’s 17, and she just dropped out of high school.  She is having a really hard time.”  I could sense a request for help coming next, and I was prepared to respond with the suggested PEP apology that we cannot make those kinds of promises, blah, blah, blah…  But he didn’t.  He confessed, “I’ve been the ‘amusement park’ dad, and I want to do better.  Your story makes me want to be a better father.”

Ok… I did not see that coming.  This massive dude is towering over me, probably 20 years my senior, and made himself humble and vulnerable before me.  It definitely took my breath away.  Keep in mind, I’m not even entirely sure to what he was referring, but I know for a fact there is no way he is referencing my entire story…  It’s just not possible at this point in the game.  But to be honest, it doesn’t matter.  If this man is inspired to be a better father based on something – anything – he heard about me, then let all of God’s people say hallelujah and amen!  I hate that I cannot remember his name right now, but I know his pitch, and I think he is a contender for the finals. J    

After the guys cleared the PEP room and headed to chow, the CEO, Chief Empowerment Officer, Bert, talked for a few minutes with the executives.  As he shared about the recent Estes Unit expansion, he explained what this first PEP dendritic class is currently doing.  He described the Authentic Man curriculum and went on to discuss how the guys start setting goals by beginning with the end – writing their own eulogy given their present day situation.  As Bert was painting this picture of despair with his words, I began to feel the air sucked out of me…  This is a heavy task, to write a eulogy about someone who has made such seemingly unimaginable mistakes, forfeited time with loved ones, and been incapable of providing for family due to incarceration.  I know this because I recently wrote my father’s eulogy, and it was the second most disgraceful thing I have ever written.

The eulogies that the PEP guys write are preliminary of course, and adjustable; it’s just an exercise. My father’s eulogy is probably worse that what any of the PEP guys would write about themselves, and it’s final.  It won’t change, ever.  Nor will his legacy, or the way we all feel about him, his life, his decisions.  It is finished.  But these PEP guys, they still have a chance to redesign their legacy and rewrite their eulogy.  I hope, from the bottom of my heart, they understand the magnitude of the opportunity they have before them.  

The question I hear over and over at PEP events is, “Ms. Jessica, what keeps you coming back?”  I just kind of shrug and say, “Oh, it’s a LOOOONG story, but for now, just please know that I believe in P-E-P and I believe in Y-O-U!”  Maybe one day, I will have the opportunity to share more with Class XXII, since after all, it is vulnerability that binds us; it is the glue that makes that middle aisle a dance floor and not a great class divide.  I am willing, and I know that if it is meant to happen, it will…all in timing divine.  #Steptotheline

  1. Took my breath away! I am sharing this with Facebook because this is not only what PEP needs, it is what ALL of us need. These men, and we volunteers, are surely blessed to all show up at this perfectly right place, at the perfect moment and create miracles.

    Thank you Ms. Jessica, we all heal together and you touched MY heart.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I am a Mom of class 21. Reading this, I cried!. How wonderful PEP, is beyond words. I feel for class 22. I myself don’t think I could of finished but I see how my son is living the PEP dream.
    Keep reaching for your goals and dreams Class 22, you can do it. You have been selected because you are deserving and loved. Jessica you are one of God’s angels.
    I am so proud of Class 22. I am proud to say my son works for PEP trying to give back a little that he has received in volumns.
    With God and PEP supporting you every step of the way, there is no failure.
    Keep looking up.
    Thanks to all!!!!!
    Barb Kelley

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