Archive for the ‘Driving Values’ Category

Can free enterprise redeem the incarcerated?

Gerard Robinson, Elizabeth English, Sean Kennedy
February 23, 2016 4:55 pm | AEIdeas

Cleveland, Texas.

An hour north of Houston, over 70 suit-clad volunteers shuffle into a place most fear to enter: prison. Greeted by CEO Bert Smith and his staff, these “executive volunteers” – drawn from Houston’s elite business community – are there to counsel prisoners in entrepreneurship.

Without a dollar of government funds, the Texas-based Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) trains prisoners to start their own businesses upon their return to society. It not only offers education and community within the prison’s walls but also gives participants the tools to succeed in life after prison through re-entry, employment, and social opportunities.

According to Smith, PEP “trains up men to gain a complete understanding of what it takes to run an honest business and build social capital.” That innovative approach, different from your average prison-based program, is already reaping rewards. PEP graduates are dramatically better off than their non-PEP counterparts, being significantly less likely to re-offend and more likely to hold down steady, well-paying work, according to a Baylor University study.

PEP emphasizes that it is “a hand-up, not a hand-out.” Participants are selected from across Texas’s prison system through recruitment and screening. After being selected, they are transferred to one of two prisons where PEP operates. Program participants start a 9-month program that includes a Leadership Academy — a character building course — and a crash course in business and entrepreneurship that culminates in a competition to determine which would-be entrepreneurs’ business ideas hold the most promise. PEP even convenes “Venture Capital Panels”— like in the TV showShark Tank – where executives volunteer to judge the budding entrepreneurs, listen to their elevator pitches, and offer feedback. Upon completing the program, successful participants graduate and receive a “Certificate in Entrepreneurship” from Baylor University.

Astoundingly, the program places 100% of its graduates in work within 90 days of release. Many achieve it much sooner. After 12 years of operation, the program has built up a network of 750 Texas employers that have placed a PEP graduate in gainful employment. The average starting wages for PEP graduates are 60% higher than minimum wage. After 6 months on the job, graduates earn an average of almost $16 an hour.

Learn more:

Though PEP is underpinned by Judeo-Christian values, participants are drawn from all races and creeds. Only men may apply, and above all other qualities PEP looks for in the competitive application process, applicants must demonstrate a commitment to changing their lives for the better.

That shared commitment to building a new life fosters palpable camaraderie among the inmates. PEP participants – most of whom have been wards of the state before – call each other “brother” and consider volunteers and staff “family.” PEP’s “10 Driving Values” (including “excellence,” “accountability,” and “fresh start outlook”) are hung around the room PEP occupies in the prison and shape every activity and interaction. Participants are asked to speak in front of volunteers and other participants regularly. They are also given business cards that they distribute to volunteers with the hope of connecting with them upon their return to society.

Upon release, PEP staff meet the participants at the prison gates and start the re-entry process – acquiring civilian identification, medical insurance, food assistance, and basic necessities like toiletries and clothes for a job interview. PEP also runs transition housing for graduates and assists with job placement and parole compliance.

To date, PEP graduates have started 211 businesses with six of those exceeding $1 million in annual revenue. In addition, the vast majority of graduates stay on the straight and narrow. The latest available data suggests that less than 7% of graduates have been re-arrested in the three years since release— an astonishing figure given national recidivism rates exceed 50% in most jurisdictions.

PEP accomplishes all of this on a shoe string budget of $2.4 million in 2016 with mostly volunteer labor. Ninety percent of its paid staff are PEP graduates themselves.

In many ways, PEP embodies the American Enterprise Institute’s mission of “increasing individual opportunity and strengthening free enterprise.” Deep in the heart of Texas, this little platoon of society is serving its fellow man by promoting self-sufficiency, free enterprise, and hope among those society often deems unredeemable.

By believing in participants and empowering them with tools for success, PEP is helping to reduce America’s high recidivism rates – a phenomenon AEI scholars including Robert Doar, Maura Corrigan, and Sally Satel have highlighted in the past. PEP may offer a path out of the vicious prison cycle toward a freer, safer, and more prosperous society for all, beginning with ex-offenders.

This article was found online at:
http://www.aei.org/publication/can-free-enterprise-redeem-the-incarcerated/

 

The following was written by PEP Class 20 graduate, Jose M. 


PEP Graduate Jose M.

PEP Graduate, Jose M.

Because of PEP and the Ten Driving Values, I am a new man.

As a teenager and a young man, I was a very lost individual. How I became the person I am today is largely due to the program and the tools given to me while incarcerated, to apply to my life on the inside and once released. I started off as a troubled person with no respect or values, but now I have a plan, and I have respect for society and others.

I initially thought PEP was a business program, but eventually I learned it was much more than that. I was skeptical at first, but like others, I began asking questions around the unit about the program. I heard that it was family-oriented and heavily involved in repairing broken homes. I latched onto it for that reason because I love my family very much and was tired of hurting them.

While in class, I learned business skills, which was great. But most importantly, I learned how to identify my character flaws in the Effective Leadership training and through a number of character assessments from my peers. I also learned that I had talents and that I actually had something to contribute to the world. We were given etiquette lessons that taught me how to conduct myself in a number of circumstances. Once released, I was also given the opportunity to continue learning in our eSchool classes. Upon completion, I was given the status of alumni, and in September of this year, I will receive my second diploma from PEP.

We have been given so much by PEP to guarantee our success in the real world. I have been gainfully employed since within a few days after my release, and I am now enrolling into courses to finally complete my college degree. I am closer to my family than I have ever been, and my whole thinking process has improved greatly. I owe so much to PEP. Thank you for opening my eyes and restoring confidence in myself. I know that as long as I work hard and remain positive, I will be successful.

I continue to participate and involve myself when I can to give back. I and others see that I’m a changed individual, and for that, I want to thank everyone involved in the program. It has been a life-changing experience.

Jose M.
Class 20

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.

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.

 

Aaron BThe following letter was written by Aaron B., a graduate of PEP.

——

I was broken.

I was lost, far more than anyone I’ve ever known. I was not subject to a neglectful childhood; it was a life in which we did not want; not even a life light and with happy memories. I was a young man who could not stand the sight of others, would not listen to the wisdom of elders and refused to accept the good that life had to offer. I saw the world as broken and empty and made my decisions based on the idea that I could not do as much damage to the world as it had already done to itself; done to me. I accepted that I was stained and bad and that I would never be good enough to entertain the simple joys and pleasures of my family and friends.

I was unworthy.

I would not acknowledge my mistakes yet accepted them as part of life. I decided that there was no need to be better. I made choices that put me in places that I didn’t want to be, but understood that, because of how dark I was inside, my prison had no walls that I could scale, nor chains that I could break. I forfeited my rights, I forfeited my chance, and I forfeited everything that my family and friends had offered to me, yet I felt so little.

I was a creature lacking willpower.

I do not know what to say about how my life is, after participating in something like PEP. I cannot tell you where I would be otherwise or what I’d be doing. PEP did not change me, but it was there waiting to provide me a chance to change when I was ready. It is a long walk to go from wanting change in your life (because regardless of my acceptance of who I was I had decided that I would never go back into that place) and still accepting that your demons are a part of who you are and will always be there- and being able to wake up and not think that your darkness is overwhelming, to have positive, permanent change and be able to look yourself in the eye. My life was hard, and I was in prison, and I felt as though I was empty and lost.

My feelings were right.

But I have become a creature of willpower.

It is a struggle every day to decide that I am more than just the sadness and despair that once enveloped all I was. I work in a fantastic place, with fantastic people who make me feel appreciated. I have my own possessions, and can say that I am proud to take care of what is mine; to prove that things have some value to me, and it’s not destructive. I treasure those close to me, and some days are hard and it seems as though clouds cover all we do, but to feel true love for the people who are closest, and not have it tainted with the knowledge that we were doomed because of evils we cannot overcome is absolutely priceless. I cannot say that there are not dark days. I cannot say that some nights I don’t lay in the dark and wonder why I keep on fighting. I cannot say that the demons are not there, and that I do not still feel unworthy.

But I am more worthy than I was.

My prison was life. My prison was the overwhelming fear and self-hatred that comes with believing that every unthinking animal is better than you could ever be. The fears are still there. Now, though, my life has love that I can feel; that I can return. My life now has truth that I can hold dear. My life is not another day waiting for the dark to finally fall.

I have been broken.

But I am mending.

——

www.PEP.org!

Read similar testimonials from other graduates here.

The following letter was written by Donny D., a graduate of PEP.

——

donny dPEP introduced me to a new way of thinking; one that was completely foreign to me before I went to prison.

I was released early so I was not able to complete the Business Plan Competition phase of PEP inside of prison with the rest of Class 17. But I am thankful that I was able to complete the first phase, called Effective Leadership, which was focused around character development.

The lessons that I learned in PEP were immediately put to the test after I was released from prison.

I moved into the PEP transitional house in Houston upon release, but only stayed for a short time. I thought I had it together, so I moved out and got my own place. I did great for a while but I became overwhelmed with life quickly. I took on a lot of responsibility, working two jobs and trying to take care of my family on my own. I began to stumble. I lost my jobs and my home. The last thing I wanted to do was ask anyone for help. My pride wouldn’t let me.

My closest friend is a PEP brother from my graduating class. I confided in him and he urged me to reach out to PEP. I did, with great reluctance of course, and PEP welcomed me back with open arms. They did not condemn me for my mistakes and rash decisions– there was only love and acceptance. It was as if I had never left!

Now, I am attending college, studying for an associate’s degree in machining technology. I have a great career path with a full-time position in my field. I’m confident with my head held high, more involved with the program and happy that I made a conscious decision to get back on track.

I learned through my struggle what PEP really is. It’s more than a program; it’s a brotherhood, a family. It has made a difference in my life. I don’t know where I would be without it.

Read similar testimonials from other graduates here.

wreckWe received this email from one of our graduates who is now employed as a tow truck driver. The subject line was “love.”

I am reminded every day by the homeless people I see on the roads and under the bridges that I have come a long way but still need work and growth comes by the grace of God. Thank you for believing in me and giving me a chance. I saw death last night in a car on the freeway when a drunk driver rolled over 5 times. While they cut him out with the jaws of life I hooked up to the pick-up and wondered whether he had any kids or a wife that he left behind to survive on their own. Choices rule our lives and we must learn from each of them. I prefer learning from others mistakes, but without personal experience life would be nothing. I want to take this time to thank my God and my friends who have endured with much suffering and patience my decisions.

PEP graduates after speaking at YES Prep

PEP graduates after speaking at YES Prep

Last week, several PEP graduates were invited to speak to the students of YES Prep in Houston. To the right is a photo of the graduates after the presentation and below are photos of the graduates in action!

The following comes from the school’s Web site:

Since we opened our doors in 1998, YES Prep has continuously redefined possible for students, families and the public education system at large. Our students are currently graduating from college at four times the rate of their peers. Today, with 13 schools in operation, serving 8,000 students throughout Houston, YES Prep is living proof that different outcomes are possible when students from low-income communities are given access to high-quality educational opportunities.

Our graduates shared their life stories and offered these young people practical advice on how to release their potential.

As we shared in this blog last week, our graduates also recently spoke at the Teach for America Summit in Houston. Many of our graduates have a deep understanding of the issues that Houston’s public school students confront on a daily basis. Some even attended public school in the Houston area, so they truly know what it means to grow up in these communities.

More importantly, having been to prison, they have seen what happens when these students succumb to the negative influences around them. Our graduates can frequently share stories of how they were first arrested as children, so their testimonies can make a tremendous impact on these young people.

However, this is not a “scared straight” program.

We do not seek to change young people’s minds through tragic stories about the negative impact of drugs and crime. They have heard these before: in fact, many of our graduates grew up in families where at least one parent was in jail or in prison. Fear of going to prison did not prevent them from pursuing crime.

Rather, we believe that introducing positive male role models into these students’ lives is critical for their long-term success.

Why do we believe this?

Nearly half of PEP’s recent graduates grew up without a father in their home. While this does not excuse their crimes, it helps us to understand what contributed to their negative choices.

When they enter these schools, our graduates are modeling what it means to be a truly successful man. By sharing how they are able to earn a decent living, take care of their families and even launch their own businesses, our graduates show these students genuine alternatives to lives of crime (which are unfortunately seen in far too positive a light within many of the communities where these children live).

This effort also makes a tremendous impact on our graduates’ themselves. As we shared towards the end of last week’s blog, allowing our graduates to assert a new identity as role models helps them to deepen their own commitment to living a transformed life.

At PEP, one of our main goals is to inspire our graduates to do more than simply “repay their debt to society.” We encourage them to become lifelong givers, and these men pictured below are tremendous examples of PEP’s driving values of love, servant leadership and wise stewardship.

If you would like to bring PEP graduates to speak to your community, please contact us today.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The following was written by PEP Class 18 graduate, Russell F.


Where PEP graduate russell fam I now because of PEP? Hmm… I think it’s easier to tell you where I am not. I’m not dead. I’m not on drugs. I’m not back in prison. Most of all, I’m not hated by many and loved by few. And because of that, I am thankful for PEP!

See, the PEP experience not only benefited me but also those around me. For once, my mother is proud of me. My old friends see that I changed and want to embark on their own journey of change. The old crazy, fighting, drug abusing Russell is gone and the new Russell whose character is built upon the foundation of PEP’s Ten Driving Values is here to stay. The friends, mentors and colleagues I have gained through PEP’s vast network of executives mean the world to me. It is truly amazing to see such kindhearted and down-to-earth men and women devote their time and money to profit a man and his family whom they have never met. It is very humbling.

I am free. I am alive. I am sober. And I have no doubt anymore that I am also loved. I am a new man. That is where I am because of God and because of PEP.

Read similar testimonials from other graduates here.

One of our Class 11 graduates lost his job last week. Rather than feeling sorry for himself, what did he do?

He came by the PEP office and donated $100. He wanted us to know how much he appreciated what PEP had done to change his life.

May each of us find such gratitude when faced with hardships!

Class 11's Coat of Arms

Class 11’s Coat of Arms