Archive for the ‘PEP Dallas’ Category

WFAA in Dallas features PEP!

Sebastian Robertson of WFAA in Dallas came to the Estes Unit on Friday morning, March 4th, and captured the story of one of the business plan finalists.

Class 20 graduate Mark L., a.k.a. "Sweet Homey the Clown"!

Class 20 graduate Mark L., a.k.a. “Sweet Homey the Clown”!

We have a very special “welcome home” post today!

Mark L. has been in prison since 10/1/1994 … and was released today. 20 years, 1 month, 13 days later.

This Class 20 graduate was actually granted parole earlier, but he **declined** it and opted to stay in prison. Why?

Because Mark had been chosen as one of 10 servant leaders (prior PEP graduates) to transfer to a new prison to help us launch a new program near Dallas, Texas. Mark “had a job to do and wanted to see it through to the end.” Read more about this here; Mark is also pictured below.

Thanks to Mark’s servant leadership, around 40 other inmates recently completed this new program in PEP. And today … after 7,349 days behind bars … Mark is free at last.

Welcome home, “Sweet Homey the Clown”!

PEP Graduate Servant Leaders at Estes Unit

Pictured with the other servant leaders who followed this call to open a new program, Mark L. is on the front row, bottom right,


Read similar testimonials from other graduates here.

The following was written by an employer of a PEP graduate. Keith Berry is the General Manager – Dallas for Hazel’s Hot Shot. His email is reposted with his permission.

I wanted to take the time and let you know how pleased we are with Richard. Richard is doing a great job for us and exemplifies the type of individuals we want representing Hazels – and I’m sure you want representing PEP. You should be proud of the job Richard is doing and take pride in knowing PEP prepared Richard to enter back into society with the confidence he can and will succeed. Richard has taken grasp of the opportunity Hazel’s offered him and he has a bright future ahead of him with Hazel’s.

His professionalism, tenacity and determination to succeed is commendable – and he is the epitome of a model Hazel’s driver.

With the success we are experiencing with Richard – we are interested in locating the same type of individual (s) for our Houston office.

Please let me know if I can be of any further assistance.


Keith R. Berry
General Manager – Dallas
Hazels Hot Shot

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.

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


PEP Graduate Servant Leaders at Estes Unit
These ten men in white graduated from PEP’s Business Plan Competition at the Cleveland Correctional Center. When we announced that PEP was expanding to a second prison in North Texas, they courageously offered to transfer to the new unit to begin building PEP’s culture of life transformation.These Servant Leaders went from being among 300+ PEP guys on a 520-man unit to being the only 10 PEP guys on a 1,040-man unit.

And yet, with their help, we are rapidly spreading our impact across the prison. We already have 40+ other inmates recruited into PEP’s new Leadership Academy … and we anticipate many more over the coming years.

Please join us in thanking these amazing Servant Leaders!

NOTE: Standing behind them is Gami Jasso, our sole staff member at the new unit. Also… this photo was taken by Israel Thompson, who later blogged about the experience here.


Moving InGreat news … the Prison Entrepreneurship Program just acquired a new housing community in the East Dallas area!

Thanks in great part to our recent partnership with the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, PEP has tripled our capacity in the North Texas area. This new home will ensure that we continue to provide a safe, supportive environment for our graduates after they are released from prison.

For previously incarcerated people, finding a safe place to live can be a significant challenge. Very few communities will consider renting a home or an apartment to someone with a prior felony. Worse still, the few housing options that are available tend to be located in communities with a disproportionate level of crime, drugs and gang activity. This can make it very difficult for an ex-offender to rebuild their lives (particularly considering the additional challenges that they face when seeking employment).

Your support of PEP ensures that 100% of our graduates are employed within 90 days of release from prison (in fact, nearly 3/4 of them are employed within the first month!). Your gifts also provide nearly 2/3 of them with the ability to move into PEP’s own transitional homes.

Now, thanks to the addition of this new housing community, we can provide affordable housing to 24 more graduates at any time.

But we still need your help to truly transform this house into a home!

  • The house is currently empty … not a stick of furniture! We need to raise $12,000 to purchase the beds necessary to house all 24 of our graduates. Until we can provide these beds, we cannot get approval from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to move them there. You can donate here.
  • Even if we have the beds … they will not have sheets! We have a registry at Target where you can purchase the housewares and other items that our graduates need. See the full list at
  • This Saturday, March 8, 2014, we are hosting a “Paint and Picnic” party to get the place ready for our new residents. The event will be from 11:00am til 5:00pm, and we will be cooking burgers, painting and more. If you are interested in joining us, please email Jeremy Gregg at and he can send you the address.

Thank you for your support of PEP. Together, we are transforming prison!

Clarence C. is a graduate of Class 18 of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program. He was recently profiled in Dallas by the CBS 11 program “Texans with Character” for the launch of his shoe shining and leather care business in the Dallas/Fort Worth Area.

See the video here:

Christmas Presents

Volunteers needed to help wrap presents!

For children with a parent in prison, the holidays are a particularly challenging time. However, thanks to the generosity of the Cornerstone Church at Highland Park United Methodist Church, PEP is able to provide Christmas gifts for the children of the men in our program who are not able to do so. Even though their Daddy is in prison, they still receive presents from him thanks to the generosity of the Cornerstone family.

This year, we have 173 children who will receive presents through this program!

This presents a wonderful opportunity for our kids, but a challenge for our small staff: how to wrap hundreds of gifts in a 72-hour period?

This is where you come in: Can you volunteer to help PEP “Wrap Up Christmas” for this group of precious children????


  • Tuesday, December 11, 2013
  • Wednesday, December 12, 2013


  • MORNING (9am – 12:00pm)
  • EARLY AFTERNOON (12:00 pm-3:00 pm)
  • LATE AFTERNOON (3:00pm-6:00pm)
  • EARLY EVENING (6:00 pm-8:00pm)


Highland Park United Methodist Church
3300 Mockingbird Lane
Dallas, TX 75205

We will be in Rooms 215, 219 and 220.

We need to know if you (and/or a group of your friends!) would be able to join us. Please contact PEP’s Chief of Staff, Kristie Wisniewski, at or (713) 366-0293.

We are thrilled to introduce the new PEP blog, which will host all the most current information about PEP, our programs, participants, and proud moments.  We hope you’ll sign up for an RSS feed (in the top right corner of this page) or fill in your email at the bottom left of this page to be alerted when we post a new entry to this site.  As you know, one of our Ten Driving Values is Excellence, and we are committed to bringing you high-quality video, stories, and other content to make this blog a frequent destination choice for you.  We hope you’ll share this site with your friends and help us introduce new folks into the PEP Family!

Happy Reading!

Erin (aka “Bruiser”)

Communications Specialist, PEP Dallas