Archive for the ‘Guest Blogger’ Category

The following email was sent to one of our loyal Accenture volunteers by a fellow employee whom she recruited to join us in prison. It is a great explanation of the impact of volunteering through PEP.

Want to join Brenan and others for such an experience? Check out our upcoming event schedule here.

Hey Sherry,

I just wanted to tell you that you were absolutely right! PEP was such an unimaginably INCREDIBLE experience!! The event started with our group of executives entering the Gym to such a warm and embracing welcome by all of the class 21 participants. During the actual Kick off session we participated in numerous ice breaking introductory events. It is hard for me to formulate the words to express how meaningful and touching this experience was to me. When meeting with these participants, I had the opportunity to do more than just speak with inmates, I met men who were eager to make a change. The guys were so genuinely expressing their gratitude for PEP and the tools that PEP is offering them to not only be successful in business, but tools that will help them reinvent their lives. You hit the nail on the head, when you said that you forget you are in a prison while participating in PEP. I don’t want to write an overbearing email. I just want to say in all that I had an amazing experience and look forward to helping see class 21 through their development in PEP and life. I want to thank you and let you know I now understand why you are so passionate about this program, because it is truly changing people’s lives.


Brenan P. Gordon

The following was written by a new volunteer to PEP: Kirsten Berger, Certified Life Coach/Speaker, and the founder of Mommy Matters by Kirsten Berger; whose mission is to help mother’s create a better version of themselves through insight, perspective, encouragement and action.

Kirsten Berger

Kirsten Berger

A few days ago I went to prison. Yes, prison. A men’s prison filled with 520 convicted criminals, many of whom committed violent crimes. A fellow coach and teacher of mine recently shared one of his volunteering/mentoring efforts with our class and I must admit that my attention was fully captured when he got to the part in his story that he goes to prison…regularly. As I continued to listen and hear the passion and joy he experiences in this program, I decided right then and there to accept his invitation to join him on his next visit. Although, I was still left with a basic thought-why there? There are many people out here that can benefit from mentoring and coaching, why help ‘those guys’?

Well, first of all, the US has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. The home of the free and the land of the brave can claim only 15 states with smaller populations than the current population of the US corrections system. And aside from the important social and moral issues to be noted about those incarcerated, the financial cost is staggering, 74 billion dollars staggering! Currently it’s cheaper to send a person to 4-year state university than it is to send someone into the corrections system. Which begs the question, does it work? Are we getting a good return on this investment? The answer is-no; we most definitely are not. Approximately 700,000 prisoners are released each year and a staggering 50% of them will commit another crime(s) resulting in their return to prison within 3 years (75% if you live in California). This is clearly a poor investment.

Enter the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, a remarkable organization that takes men who are scheduled for release within 1-3 years, and offers them an amazing opportunity to learn, grow, and invest in themselves. And let me tell you, this program works! Less than 5% of PEP graduate prisoners find their way back to prison compared to the 50% national average. And perhaps even more astounding is that since PEP‘s inception, 100% of its graduates find a job within 90 days of release. Today, you have a better chance of getting a job out of prison than you do after graduating from an Ivy League University. Whoa!

But, what impressed me most about spending a six hour day with 97 of these PEP prisoners, was the joy and hope each of them embodied amidst what’s considered a place of sorrow and hopelessness. These men are experiencing significance in a way that many of us on the outside have not. We’re all broken, we’ve all sinned, and we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God. The great news is, all of us, even those who are in prison, are worthy of forgiveness and a second chance.

I truly enjoyed meaningful, one on one conversations with about 12 men and every one of them had a spark of hope and purpose in their eyes that I can’t quite describe. As the day progressed I recalled a thought I had before I arrived at the prison; this would likely be a day of unease as I attempted to help some of the‘least, last, and lost’ of our society. However, I left the prison with the transformative realization that I was the one who was helped and blessed by those men. Those men who in fact are among the ‘most, first, and found’ of our society.Most, because they were putting everything they had into their work and their transformation. First, because for many of these men, this was the first time they believed they are valuable and first in God’s sight and therefore deserving of this opportunity. Found, because God finds, holds, and keeps all of his creations close-if we believe, accept, and allow him to.

So thank you men of the PEP program! I look forward to visiting your gated community again soon. Thank you for helping me to see prison as not simply a sad, forgotten place of punishment; but rather as a hopeful platform of opportunity.

As Jeremy Gregg, PEP’s Chief Development Officer, put it, “We can’t change a prisoners circumstances but we can help to transform the broken lives that live there into the change that transforms the system.” Agreed. A change that one day might bring a shift in our language from “crime and punishment” to “crime turned disburdenment”.

The following was written by a new volunteer to PEP: William Brant Wallace, PhD, the COO and Treasurer of e-World Systems Ltd. Brant is also officially the 100th person to join the PEP Partners program, through which he and others make monthly gifts to sustain and grow PEP’s mission. You can learn more about this program here.

 Matthew 25:36 (NIV):
I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.


I spent the day in a State of Texas prison yesterday.

A friend and colleague (thank you Keith) invited me to attend what he described as “Shark Tank in Prison”. The day was called ‘Pitch Day’ and was organized, run, and hosted by the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (

Not knowing much about the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, although my friend gave an extensive briefing on the way to the state penitentiary, I was pensive. Once we arrived, we were asked to exchange our driver’s licenses for issued ID’s, remove everything out of our pockets, take off jackets and shoes, walked through metal detectors, were pat down, and, as very large and heavy metal doors slid shut and locked behind us, we were escorted to interior rooms of the prison. Having been a guest of Harris County Texas several times in my life, this experience was a little unsettling.

As we settled in, a group of 60 business owners and executives interacted with 77 inmates of varying backgrounds. These prisoners were welcoming, excited to see us, were pleasant to interact with, and, equipped with a purpose and months of preparation, were smiling and having fun. As the 20th class of the program, the prisoners were selected from several thousand applicants from around the State of Texas’ prison system. Once accepted, they had undergone rigorous education, training, peer character assessments, and were asked to create a business plan.

Yesterday, they pitched their business plans to panels of people like me. We coached and critiqued their presentations, pitches, and plans. After the panel members had heard all of the pitches, we were given an opportunity to speak with them one-on-one.

When I spoke with them one-on-one, it no longer felt like I was speaking to someone in prison but like I was speaking to an emerging entrepreneur asking for guidance, a shot, and capital. As a matter of fact, they were more receptive and prepared than most entrepreneurs that I hear from on a daily basis. As the day concluded, we heard reflections from various executives and prisoners. After the prisoners were escorted out and went back to their daily routines, we were asked to consider continued support and involvement of PEP (

This morning, I felt compelled to share a little of my PEP experience and to ask that as our weekend begins, that we remember to give a chance and hope to those who are in need, sick, and in prison.


Father God, thank you for calling us to give clothes to those in need, to look after the sick, and to visit those in prison. Thank you for using us to give hope to the needy, the sick, and prisoners and captives. As we are consumed by our busy lives, please help us to remember your charge. Through following your charge, please teach us to take the time to work with those less fortunate than ourselves. In doing so, please guide us to follow Christ’s example by giving the most unlikely members of society a chance and a shot. All of this we ask in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The following was written by Lance Manning, a member of the PEP Dallas Advisory Board who works as a R&D startup consultant with the Larta Institute. 

Recently, thousands gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “March on Washington”.  Our nation considered the purpose of the original event and what it meant for civil rights.  Video clips of the “Dream” speech reminded us of the vision for unity, compassion, and equality for all citizens in this great nation. 

During the same week, I attended an event in Dallas for the Prison Entrepreneurship Program hosted by the Communities Foundation of Texas.  We were there to celebrate the United Way of Dallas’ three-year, $750,000 investment in PEP.  Local leaders in business, government, and philanthropy attended and learned about the origins of the Program and heard the personal testimonies of some of our graduates.

John M. told of his many trips to prison and how he’s determined not to go back.  Because of his choices, he lost people dear to him and hope for a good life.  Graduating from PEP and getting a job upon release gave him hope.  He is the first felon hired by a local auto dealership who changed their hiring policy because of the Program’s reputation.  He has been promoted and asked to consider this as his career track.  He now speaks of being strengthened to live up to the expectations the PEP community has for him.

Clarence C. is a very grateful man who has recovered from some bad choices made earlier in life.  The entrepreneurship skills he has honed through the Program motivated him to start a services franchise business.  PEP gave him the know-how and motivation to pursue his dream and be an entrepreneur.  Later this month, he will be on the Steve Harvey Show to share his story.

As I sat in the audience, I wondered about the “dream” of Dr. King.  What did he want for future generations?  I felt impressed that our Program – executives helping the encarcerated help themselves -might be part of his vision.  The handshake of brotherhood that is PEP symbolizes hope, encouragement, and economic prosperity for hundreds of men and countless others in their circles of influence.

The message conveyed on this souvenir pin from 50 years ago was a driving motivation for the march and is a modern-day emblem of the power of entrepreneurship reflected in the ongoing success of the Program.

Entrepreneurship is a proactive quality championed by self-reliance, faith, confidence, and the power to take charge of one’s economic future.  It’s not about waiting for the government to do something.  President John F. Kennedy said it best, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”  Helping others achieve economic self-reliance when much of society has turned their back on them is what PEP is about.

The dream for jobs, freedom, and economic prosperity is alive and well in Texas.

Fellow entrepreneur and Dallas Maverick’s owner, Mark Cuban, spoke of entrepreneurship as something bigger, something to consider for a nation in economic malaise.  “The cure for what ails us is the Entrepreneurial Spirit of this country.  We are a nation of people who encourage, support, and invest in those of any and all age, race and gender who will use their ingenuity and come up with, a new idea.  It’s always the new idea that re-energizes this country……  Now is the time for Entrepreneurs to step up and do our part for our country. It’s up to us to start businesses and create jobs. That is the cure to this country’s economic problems.”

PEP is stepping up.

We are citizens united for a better future.  This pin given out at the March on Washington 50 years ago represents the dream of equality and prosperity for all.  Through dedication, through unity, through entrepreneurship, we are honoring Dr. King’s dream for a better future for all citizens.

Lance Manning with Participants in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program

Lance Manning with Participants in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program

Rich Lubbers, the first MBA/MDiv (Master of Divinity) student at Baylor University, wrote the following on his blog here … and we just had to share it with you!

This last Friday, I got to be a part of a rather unique trip to Cleveland, Texas with my fellow MBA students.  It was something that I never thought I would do (at least on purpose) as part of an MBA program – we went to prison!  While there, we were able to work with a group of people who are trying to help inmates who will be getting out soon (within the next 1-3 years).  The scope of the program was far greater than I knew before going on this trip, and it seems like a special organization.

One of the things that prisoners get as a result of this program is training in basic business concepts.  Their lives when they get out of prison are significantly more difficult, as a result of their choices that resulted in them going to prison.  However, the way that this program saw it, they wanted to graduate people from the program, as well as from prison, never to come back to such a place.  In providing training in these basic business concepts, the hope was that they would be able to find the kind of job that would be willing to overlook some of their past indiscretions in favor of giving them an honest shot at an honest living.

As a person of faith, I cannot begin to tell you how much this seems to tell the kind of story that I would want to tell.  This is the kind of story of second chances for people who have worked hard to make a change.  Furthermore, I was reminded of all the times when I was young and stupid when I could have been in their shoes.  There, but by the grace of God, go I…

Another item that is addressed in this program’s time with these inmates is that they all put together business plans, looking at profitability timelines, hidden costs, and all of the other things that I still have to learn.  The way that they were already thinking about these things showed me that they were not too far behind me, if not already ahead.  Some of them have been thinking about these things ever since submitting a 20-page essay-based application.  Many applied, but only a few got in.

One of the specific tasks that we did was hear them pitch business ideas.  For ten minutes at a time, 90 of us went face to face with a convicted felon who was just beginning to work on a business plan.  They told us their ideas, we tried to use whatever expertise to help them focus (and sometimes reorient) their thoughts.  Simple.  Easy.  Right?


I feel like I learned something so basic from them.  I’ve heard all of the stories, felt fairly cynical towards prisoners.  But when I got one-on-one, they were just like you and me.  Some told me of wanting to provide for their families, some wanted to lift their families out of horrible backgrounds, all wanted a better life than the one they had chosen up to that point.  The vast majority came from terrible family backgrounds. I couldn’t help but empathize with some of them.  I’m really rooting for them, and I hope to see what they do and contribute to society.

The payoff?  When they graduate, they get a certificate from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business.  Same place I get my degree from.  I’m proud of that.

The following speech was delivered by PEP volunteer Guillermo Mendoza at a Toastmaster meeting, and he generously shared it with us to publish here.

Guillermo Mendoza houston

PEP volunteer and mentor Guillermo Mendoza of Houston, TX

What would you do if 15 years of your life disappeared? What would you do if those years were from when you were 18 years old to when you were 33 years old?

Madam Toastmasters, fellow toastmasters and honored guests good morning!
Close your eyes and imagine for a moment what happened in your life from 18 to 33 years old.

I met Johnny F. in a graduation party, this particular group he belonged to was graduating from a night school program where for 5 months they learned about finances, business, plans, goals and how to survive and be successful in a world that changed without them during the 10 to 15 years on average they spent in prison.

I was at that graduation because I had been invited to be Johnny’s mentor and I met with him the following week.

I said “Johnny before we start working I need to know what happened? What’s your story? What was the big mistake?”

Johnny said “I was young and stupid, a friend, a bad friend asked me to help him to go and scare somebody, when we were scaring this person things got out of control, my friend pulled out a gun and shot him, I was in shock and surprised but that did not prevent me from jumping to this person and ask him: are you ok? He was not, but he survived, in his statement he declared that I was not armed, that I did not shoot him and that actually I tried to help him, but that did not help my case, the prosecution based on the guilty by association law stated in my report that I was armed, that I pulled out a gun and I shot him, I was shocked when I read it, it was an exact copy of the report in my friend’s file, but they were entitled to do that. I was sentenced to 15 years; today I feel I am an 18-year-old young man in a 33-year-old body, I feel my life was on hold for 15 years. I have the same aspirations and desires, I wanted my first car, I wanted my first job, I wanted to go to college, and to find a nice woman to start a family some day. I am starting again”

After being released on January 17th , 2012 Johnny went to a transition house, he got a job within the first week and he rode his bike almost 20 miles every day for 6 months until he saved enough money to buy his first car, he then was promoted and started attending the University of Houston to pursue his bachelors in business administration degree.

He saved money again to get his second car, he did not sell his first car he gave it to his 63 year old mother in San Antonio to help her move more safely in a bad neighborhood he didn’t like her to walk in those streets. His mother left his father when he was 4 years old, he was never present in his life.

Johnny is the client that pays me less money, actually he does not pay me at all, but he is the one paying me the highest in satisfaction and results.

He is disciplined with his time and his money, when I asked him what are we going to work with? How is life? He said life is good I have my first job, I have my first car, I am in college, I go to church, I do exercise I met a young woman I like. I said then what is the next step how do I help you?, he said I guess we can work on my business plan to start a weekend business.

Wash away is the name he picked for his mobile carwash pressure cleaning service, it is not only a business plan, he is already ahead of the game and got 2 used pressure washers while he is working on his business plan.

Johnny has no time to lose he realizes that those 15 years gave him a lot of perspective but no opportunity to work on tangible results and now he is working on getting them.

My speech today had to be a dramatic one, I don’t know if this is dramatic enough, but if you want dramatic just pull out any of the files in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program: difficult childhoods, abuse, violence, bad decisions and big mistakes but also new committed disciplined men, working hard to finally get the life they always deserved.

Johnny this speech is for you I am so proud of you I am very glad that you are rebuilding your life and it is a real pleasure to work with men like you.

Madam Toastmaster…

Notes for Michael G

Notecards sent to this volunteer

The following was posted this morning by one of our volunteer executives, Michael J. Gilbert (founder of Street Level Apps):

I sit here this morning with tears in my eyes, humbled yet happy.

My normal routine is to gather my mail at the end of the day and read it first thing over breakfast. Normally I throw out the junk mail without even looking inside.

I opened a large envelope that seemed like junk mail, however this was hand addressed (note to marketers). Inside were thank you letters from students in the Prison Entrepreneur Program. These men are truly grateful that someone gives a damn, someone that took time out of their day not just to say ‘I care” but to guide them in the right direction; in life and business.

Some time ago I volunteered to help edit business plans and attend “Sales Pitch Day”, inside the prison at the Cleveland Correctional Center north of Houston., Texas.

It’s humbling to see the transformation of a man, especially one so drastic. You take a man and especially young men that have done nothing but spend their lives in and out of jails and prisons, that have never had any opportunities in his life, no guidance or a mentor and put him in the right situation, offer him an opportunity to better himself along with guidance and the real man emerges. It reminds me of Eddie Murphy in “Changing Places”.

“We offer a ‘mini MBA’ program within the Texas prison system that transforms inmates into entrepreneurs,” said Bert Smith, CEO of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP). Through the program, the inmates also develop complete business plans for a real venture that they can pursue after release.

I think all too often we become so immersed in our own lives we fail to realize there are people hurting but wanting help but we step right over them in our pursuit of own goals and aspirations.

The fact is, I thought I was the one that was going to ‘go down and teach these boys a thing or two.” What truly happen was my own transformation. I came home humbled and reminded that we are all in this together. I was also reminded of the vision that started over 10 years ago and one that is coming to fruition as I write this. (Stay tuned).

I can tell you I will not lie on my death bed wishing I had worked one more hour, or made one more dollar, or closed one more deal. Although I do love what I do I also will not lie on that bed with regrets. The second half of my life is dedicated to helping those that need our help the most. (Read Bob Buford’s “Half Time: From Success to Significance”)

Won’t you join me? Become a volunteer Or join another charity that benefits society as a whole. Get involved in the lives of others and your own problems will soon disappear. When we focus on others, that’s where true joy and happiness is found.

During PEP’s Business Plan Competition these inmates pitch their business plans to more than 50 “free world” executives, entrepreneurs and MBA students who attend PEP’s in-prison events.

Over 9 years, over 1,000 men have graduated from PEP. Over 95% continue to be contributing citizens of society. That’s the complete opposite of the national average of recidivism. PEP continues to carry on a great program as Baylor University has now Certified the PEP Program.

Britanie Olvera Austin TexasHaving engaged with PEP the first time in 2008, I find myself not only advocating PEP, but embracing the PEP wings and philosophy: “Changing the Future by Reconciling the Past”. This phrase has meaning and value far exceeding ink on paper. I am passionately involved with PEP because I see it not only giving second chances, but renewing families, re igniting “fatherhood”, but also changing hearts on both sides of the prison wall. I give to PEP my time; my money and I have had the pleasure of hiring PEP graduates into my business. The residual result is an infectious change that spreads into communities; extended families and businesses, resulting in the best ROI I have encountered.

You can look at the tax base return to the taxpayer on many levels, the numbers, hands down tell the successful story of PEP and what it’s accomplishing, but when you look at the changed lives, saved souls and mended hearts, you see the true success of PEP. This unquestionably has a reverberating and lasting effect on our local and regional community, of which the full residual effect, monetarily and socially are difficult to capture in a financial statement. I have seen nothing else like it and I’m convinced it is a revolution. AMAZING WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE EMPOWER PEOPLE


Britanie Olvera
Building Team Solutions Inc
B.I.T Construction Services Inc

“Building teams and changing lives one staffing at a time”

Thank you to our volunteer Amanda for writing this great blog about her experience visiting PEP this past week:

Today I went to prison.

I have supported Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) for several years with small financial gifts and this year as an Executive Business Adviser. So, this year when planning my vacation to the U.S., I decided to make a stop in Houston. I wanted to see firsthand what they do and also participate in “Selling Night” where PEP participants gain valuable experience pitching and crafting their business plans.

Then, all of the sudden last night I began to think, “What the heck am I doing?” In Houston, going to a prison? And I was a little bit nervous.

The event today was amazing. I have rarely been so welcomed into a community of people eager to meet me and have what we refer to in the Dominican as anintercambio – the meeting of two or more people on level ground to learn from and serve each other.

The men in the PEP are near release and have undergone an intensive interview process to be able to participate in a challenging-MBA like program. I had read the literature, but still was not prepared for how well spoken, genuine, and eager to work hard they would be.

The biggest take away for me today was: we are all the same. As the men pitched to me they were nervous. As I got ready this morning I was nervous. They have made some mistakes and the good Lord knows just how many of those I have made too. I saw myself in them. I have been given many second chances and good gifts I did not deserve. I want to be a facilitator of those same things to them too.

Several Executive Volunteers stood up and addressed the men and told them they came to this event and to serve them because the men are worthy. So true.

Magnetic PEP: It will grab you!

Strange as it may seem…this is true…

I worked for a publically traded software company managing their sales internationally here in the USA. A client from New Zealand was visiting the company here in Texas for a demonstration of the system. Prior to his arrival, I requested a list of Texas highlights he wished to visit. Being a foreigner myself: I assumed he would want to visit the local tourist landmarks: of which there are more than just NASA.

Nope – the list arrived on email one morning and he had requested I set up a meeting with a non-profit called PEP. OK…Where to go from here? I Googled it – asked around and soon to find out it – was located not far from the office. I could swallow this as a client treat –with no expectations on my side.

Three weeks later – I found myself sitting in the boardroom of the PEP office in Houston listening to a very passionate employee describe the vision, objectives and reason for the existence of PEP.
Hours later – I found myself thanking my client for the surest gift I could ever receive and be infinitely grateful for…

I had spent 14 years in South Africa – with little success visiting prisoners with no families. I spent a further 2.5 years visiting foreigners in prison detained in Thailand awaiting the King’s pardon for their release with very little success. Embassies around the globe fighting hard to retain their citizens and return them home, with very little influence – was my constant expose to failure.

The gift of my client introduced me to: PEP – who are way stronger than any embassy I had worked with .Through their unconditional efforts to empower the PEP inmates to own their own future’s and deliver themselves to freedom – PEP lives and breeds statistical success. Visiting the Cleveland Unit, experiencing the success and the pure interaction with the folk is an honor and fulfills my need to understand prosperity in its simplest form.