Guest Blogger: Michael Collins

Posted: February 18, 2015 by Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) in About PEP
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The following was written by MBA student and executive volunteer, Michael Collins, about his first experience inside prison and how it pushed him outside his comfort zone.


About two years ago I was introduced to the Prison Entrepreneurship Program by my father, who swore to me that my experience with PEP would change my life. He couldn’t have said a truer statement.

The purpose of this organization is to help those who are incarcerated create jobs for themselves once they are released from prison. This is especially important, as most men find it extremely difficult to find employment after transitioning back into society. As a result of this hardship, over half return to prison. To combat this problem, the PEP program equips men with entrepreneurial tools to start their own businesses once released. Similar to the television show, “Shark Tank,” executive volunteers, ranging from CEO’s of globally recognizable companies to graduate students, critique the mens’ business plans and pitches in a competitive setting at the culmination of the program.

Growing up in a white, privileged family, I didn’t have much exposure to individuals who had committed crimes or gone to prison. It was a side of the world which I had really been sheltered from, so as I walked into the facility for the first time, my heart began to beat faster and faster in anticipation. Despite my expectation of being treated like a law-abiding civilian, I was abruptly awakened by the serious tone and treatment by the guards as we were pat-searched and ordered to go through a metal detector.

The other executive volunteers and I then walked down a hallway and into a room, where we were welcomed by the men participating in the program, all cheering and celebrating our presence. After we all got settled, the CEO of PEP began to talk about the program and the agenda for the day. We began with some getting-to-know-you exercises, along with some “surprises” to really get us out of our comfort zones, which were instrumental in breaking down the apprehension I knew existed amongst some of the volunteers in attendance. By the end of this segment, I began to not only see the appreciation the guys had for us being there, but I could also feel the gratitude. It was at this moment I knew this experience was already changing my life.

For the next five hours I spent time meeting with about twenty different inmates one-on-one to hear their business plans and provide feedback. This part of my experience in prison was extremely powerful, as my very distinct perception of inmates changed so drastically. The hours flew by, and I felt like I wasn’t in a prison anymore at all. The men I spoke with were some of the most articulate and personable people I’d ever met, and by the end of the day, it felt like I had just spent my time catching up with old friends. Then, the volunteers were asked to step aside, and the inmates were ordered to file into lines for a count: an eye-opening reality check that I’ll never forget. The atmosphere did a complete 180, and the room went from being a warm social setting with friends, to a cold and harsh prison almost instantly. The men I had just became friends with, and laughed with, were now being treated like rabid animals.

As I drove home from the prison, I struggled mentally to comprehend everything that had occurred while I was there. About a day or two later, I finally understood what all the volunteers had talked about; I could feel how I had changed. All my perspectives and preconceived notions about prisoners had been erased, as the passion and effort I saw from those men rivaled those of famous entrepreneurs.

My experience in prison not only changed my life, but it taught me a lot. I learned that uncomfortable situations are only as stressful as you make them out to be, and that no matter where two people come from, there’s always something you can find you have in common. Since that day I first stepped into that prison, I have been back three times, each less stressful and more enjoyable than the last. But no trip back will ever match my first experience inside those walls, a memory I will always hold dear to my heart.

Mike Collins

Comments
  1. Alex B. says:

    Great post! There are so many families adversely affected because of imprisoned relatives… It’s awesome that this program is working to eliminate some of the stereotypes associated with inmates/criminals. Many of them are people who fell on desperate times and took drastic measures.

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