Archive for the ‘PEP Supporters’ Category

PEP Challenge Sign

If you’ve kept up with our blog, you have read some amazing stories of life transformation in the past few months.

You have read graduate about Adam C., who shared that PEP taught him that “beauty could rise from the ashes of (a) brokenhearted young man.” You have read graduate Lance N.’s story about how PEP helped him to find his first job (and why he donates to PEP each month). Graduate David F. shared how he had never stayed out of jail for more than a year, but now has been out for more than three years thanks to PEP. Others, like Devon S. and Cristian H. , shared how God has changed their lives through PEP.

And all of that was just in October!

Just imagine the stories that you can make possible over the next year.

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program is rapidly growing. This past August, we launched our operations in a second prison in Texas. By 2015, we might be able to serve nearly twice as many people as we did at the beginning of this year… provided that we have the funding to do so.

PEP is 100% privately funded. Without donors like you, graduate Clay T. may not have paid of $44K in debt and graduate James C. may not have generated over $5MM in sales through his business.

You make these stories possible. That is why we are asking for your help today.

We need to raise $190,000 by December 31, 2014.

These funds will ensure that we can launch into 2015 with full force, rapidly expanding our presence both inside of prison and outside of the walls. Your gift will make sure that 100% of our graduates find a job within 90 days of release from prison and that their likelihood of returning to crime drops by 80-90%.

Help us Meet the Challenge!


Thanks to the PEP Board of Directors, we have the potential to match every gift!

  • One-time gifts will be matched dollar-for-dollar. That means a gift of $1,000 will instantly become $2,000!
  • Monthly commitments will be matched TWO to one based on their annual value! That means a commitment of $100 per month will receive a $2,400 match – making a $3,600 combined impact on PEP!

Where else can you make this kind of impact?

Your gifts matter.

Can we count on you?

Bert Smith

nacogdoches rotary

Brad C. and two PEP volunteers, Sherry P. and Carl. P, with a leader of the Rotary Club of Nacogdoches

The PEP Revolution rolls on … into Nacogdoches, Texas!

The local Rotary Club invited one of our graduates and two of our volunteers to share their story with the member of the club. Pictured here are the presenters, who spoke to over 100 people in an event that was later broadcast on television through KTRE (click here for the video).

(To learn more about Sherry’s son Kevin, read his guest blog here or watch his video here)

We are so very grateful for the many people who join us in our effort to transform the prison system.


Please take a moment to watch the video below … and then share it!

Nacogdoches couple touts prison entrepreneurship program that changed son's life

Below is a press release from Bridgeway about our 2014 Volunteer Keith Okano (pictured).


Bridgeway's Keith Okano with the finalists of PEP's Class 21 Business Plan Competition

Bridgeway’s Keith Okano with the finalists of PEP’s Class 21 Business Plan Competition

HOUSTON, Oct. 8, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — Bridgeway Software, the most recommended provider of legal services management solutions, today announced that president Keith Okano was named Houston 2014 Volunteer of the Year by the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP). Established in 2004, PEP is a Houston-based nonprofit organization that operates as a public-private partnership with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. PEP has pioneered innovative programs that connect the nation’s top executives, entrepreneurs, and MBA students with convicted felons.

“I strongly believe in second chances, particularly with programs that help people who want to help themselves,” said Keith Okano, president of Bridgeway Software. “As positive advocates of change, PEP’s goal is to be on the front line, diving into the source of the problem and reclaiming the human spirit.  I am honored to be associated with such an important organization and to helping these men discover their untapped potential.”

A former member of PEP’s Houston Advisory Board, Mr. Okano has volunteered in prison more than 30 days in the past three years alone. He has also served as a business plan advisor for four incarcerated men; one of whom won PEP’s business plan competition thanks in large part to Keith’s support. Outside of prison, he has served as a mentor to a released graduate and taught classes in PEP’s eSchool program—a continuing education program offered to released graduates. Beyond volunteering, Keith has been a faithful donor and outspoken advocate for PEP in the community.  He has brought friends and coworkers to visit prisons, and even travelled to North Texas to speak to a group of students from the University of North Texas about his involvement in PEP.

Keith Okano models servant leadership, humility, and generosity in a way that makes an enormous impact on everyone around him including those who are incarcerated and his fellow volunteers. We are very proud to recognize him as our 2014 Houston Volunteer of the Year,” said Bert Smith, CEO of PEP.

PEP’s entrepreneurship boot camp and re-entry programs are proven solutions for preventing recidivism, maximizing self-sufficiency and transforming broken lives. According to a recent study from Baylor University, PEP out-performs all nine of the state’s other major prison rehabilitation programs while delivering a 340% ROI for every dollar invested by private donors.

One of the major reasons for PEP’s success is it engages nearly one thousand different volunteers each year as either in-prison volunteers, remote business plan advisors, or “free world” volunteers. These amazing servant leaders provide critical support to PEP and ensure that it can continue to deliver best-in-class results while maximizing the impact of the community’s financial support.

“Keith is a wonderful source of encouragement and wise counsel for our men,” said Kristie Wisniewski, Chief of Staff for PEP. “Keith is a man of few words, is very deep and thinks carefully before speaking. He reminds me of Albert Einstein’s quote, ‘Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.’ I think Keith is a man of value to his family, his co-workers and to PEP, and we are honored to name him our volunteer of the year.”

About the Prison Entrepreneurship Program
Established in 2004, the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) is a Houston-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The program’s mission is to transform inmates and executives by unlocking human potential through entrepreneurial passion, education, and mentoring.  PEP’s groundbreaking results include a return-to-prison rate of less than 5%, employment rate of 100% within 90 days, and the successful launch of more than 100 businesses. To learn more, visit

About Bridgeway
Bridgeway is dedicated to providing software solutions and professional services to implement best practices for the offices of the general counsel and corporate secretary. Most recommended by clients, Bridgeway enables leading corporations and government agencies to optimize productivity, reduce cost, and mitigate risk with an integrated technology approach for legal services management. Bridgeway implements systems in the areas of matter and case management, electronic invoicing, cost management, corporate governance, contract management, litigation risk assessment, and entity management. Founded in 1989, the company is headquartered in Houston, Texas with representative offices in Philadelphia and Toronto. More information about eCounsel®, LawManager®, Smart InvoiceCorridor™, Bridgeway Legal Hold, and Secretariat® is available at or by calling 888-272-4699.

SOURCE Bridgeway Software

bank of americaPrison is a storehouse of untapped potential.

Thankfully — Bank of America invested $20,000 earlier this year to help us release that potential through education and life skills training.

“Bank of America is proud to support Prison Entrepreneurship Program for their passion to empower reformed inmates through re-entry programs that help transform lives,” said Hong Ogle, Houston President, Bank of America. “Over the last 11 years, the impact of this program in our community has been far reaching. We have witnessed firsthand how supportive, educational programs help men successfully re-enter society, secure jobs and become responsible, successful citizens and contributors in our community.”

Together, we will ensure that 100% of PEP’s graduates (every single one!) leaves prison with the ability to secure jobs within 90 days of release.

We are proud to partner with a bank that believes in empowering people to transform broken lives into beacons of hope! — at PEP.

We are pleased to announce that Annie Lord has joined the Dallas Advisory Board of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program!

“Annie brings a wealth of community development experience to PEP,” says Bert Smith, CEO of PEP. “She has a great passion for our mission and I am confident that her insights will particularly strengthen our efforts to launch, grow, and sustain businesses owned by our graduates.”

Annie serves as a Vice President – Community Development Officer at Citi. In this capacity, she stewards the community development efforts.

After attending her first meeting of Dallas Advisory Board, Annie remarked that: “PEP is an ideal partner to help cities. The organization has a proven track record of dramatically reducing recidivism and its associated costs to the public. PEP graduates become successful business owners, employees, and contributors to our society, and I am proud to support this transformation.”

Annie also organizes volunteer opportunities for company employees … and we are very proud to say that, even when 4-5 months pregnant, she was not afraid to volunteer in prison with PEP at Class 20’s Pitch Day!

Annie Lord - Citi

Citi’s Annie Lord volunteering at the Prison Entrepreneurship Program.

Prior to joining Citi, Annie served as the Executive Director for the South Florida Community Development Coalition, a 57-member organization dedicated to improving the performance of the community development sector in Miami, Florida. Annie also previously served in a leadership role at the Latino Economic Development Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that equips Latinos and other DC-area residents with the skills and financial tools to create a better future for their families and communities.

Annie earned her MPP (Master in Public Policy, Economic Development) from Harvard – Kennedy School. She previously earned a BA in Latin American History and Literature from Harvard University.

Please join us in welcoming Annie to PEP!

wce-graphic2012Our friends at the University of Houston‘s Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship won the Department of Energy’s National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition!  Led by Ken Jones and David Cook, this team nailed it, and took home the big prize (after competing against teams from Harvard, Stanford and more!).

The national competition offered three ways to win with an Audience Investor Choice Award, based on audience votes, a People’s Choice Award, based on online voting, and the Grand Prize selected by the judges.

REEcycle won them all, leaving the other finalists from Colorado, Georgia Tech, MIT, Michigan State and Ohio State in the dust, despite the professionals on some of their teams.

Here is why we are sharing this today:

Each of these winners previously volunteered in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program’s Business Plan Workshops, where they offered their insights to PEP participants in April and October 2013. In fact, two of them made the tremendous commitment to also serve as Business Plan Advisors to our participants. 

We are delighted to celebrate their success, and wish them and all of their classmates great success in their future, real world endeavors. Check out this article, which details the impressive victories along their journey:

Entrepreneur’s mantra:  Let’s make it happen………!

accenture logoFun fact of the day: 

Since 2007, at least 278 Accenture employees have invested over 1,350 hours volunteering with the Prison Entrepreneurship Program!


Please join us in thanking these amazing servant leaders for all that they have done for PEP. By giving our graduates the skills to succeed, they have helped PEP to turn over 1,000 former inmates into stable employees, solid entrepreneurs, reliable neighbors and contributing citizens!

Colleen Rickenbacher teaching etiquette in prison

Author Colleen Rickenbacher teaching etiquette in prison

WOOHOO! Some awesome photos are now available from Class “Triumphant” 21’s most recent event … Excellence in Etiquette, featuring the truly inimitable Colleen Rickenbacher (a.k.a. The Necktie Assassin).

We are grateful to our dear friend Genie Erneta for sponsoring this event (including the best meal served this year within the Cleveland Correctional Center)!

See all of the photos here:

Charles H. and Fabian M. of PEP Class 17

Brothers from other mothers — Charles H. and Fabian M. of PEP Class 17

“What is the secret to PEP’s success?”

People all over the country ask us that question. They have heard about the Prison Entrepreneurship Program‘s unprecedented results and want to learn how they can replicate them in other states.

Many ask us to share our curriculum or to tell them how we successful recruit hundreds of executive volunteers to join us in prison. Others ask about the impact of the remarkable public-private partnership that we have formed with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice or the academic partnership that we have formed with Baylor University.

These things are important, we tell them, but they are not the primary cause of our impact.

Without question — the source of our strength lies in the culture that we have created through the hearts and the hard work of our participants. The brotherhood that our participants form inside the prison is our strongest tool in rebuilding lives.

Today, we had a great reminder of the impact of this brotherhood.

Charles H. and Fabian M. were both graduates of PEP’s Class “Celestial” 17. Despite coming from very different backgrounds, they overcame the harsh racial divides that are typical inside of prison and became friends. Indeed, their friendship became such a source of strength that both men were named finalists in our Business Plan Competition.

Fabian was even profiled on national Fox News when he won that competition.

Since their release from prison, both men have re-established their lives. They have not only remained friends, but both are now loyal donors to PEP. And today, we are humbled to share that they have jointly committed to a $1,000 sponsorship of the Class 21 Business Plan Competition and Graduation on June 6, 2014.

Their gift will support the families of PEP participants whom they have not even met. Their only bond is the PEP Brotherhood that Charles and Fabian helped us to form, and which their continued commitment allows us to strengthen.

Thank you, Charles and Fabian, for your inspiring lives!

If you would like to attend the Class 21 graduation in prison to meet the families whom Charles and Fabian have sponsored, RSVP here.

Not even the driving wind could blow away the giving spirit at Insperity — today their awesome Houston team held a clothing drive for PEP. Below are the photos of our “high speed” van loading!

If your company, civic group or faith community would be interested in hosting a clothing drive for PEP, please contact us at Thank you!