Posts Tagged ‘client testimonial’

PEP was just profiled by Acton Institute, a nonprofit research organization dedicated to the study of free-market economics informed by religious faith and moral absolutes. The full story can be found here.

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Shortly after the day’s guests arrive at the East Texas prison, and well before they begin to mix with the inmates, they hear a low rumbling noise in the distance. As they make their way closer to the prison gymnasium, the low rumbling grows into a constant and thunderous clamor. For those making their first visit to the Cleveland Correctional Center, located 45 minutes north of Houston, the roar of the inmates’ husky voices is disconcerting—maybe even intimidating—as they wonder what awaits them. The energy inside the prison is relentless, almost palpable. When the doors swing open to the gymnasium, the day’s guests walk single file through a sea of shouting inmates. One hundred and twenty-six prisoners to be exact.

But this is no angry riot. This is a victory celebration.Visitors are greeted with deafening applause and pats on the back from the inmates as they walk through what can only be described as a celebratory hand-slapping gauntlet.

The fist-pumping reception sets the tone for the day in what feels like a pep rally. It signifies that something behind the bars of the 520-inmate prison, indeed within the hearts of many of its prisoners, has changed.

Welcome to “pitch day,” where inmates practice and prepare for an upcoming business plan competition managed by the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), a Houston-based nonprofit that turns incarcerated men into aspiring business owners.

During this important dress rehearsal as they prepare for their final examination, inmates receive feedback from mostly local business leaders. At a later date, the men in the program deliver a 30-minute oral business plan presentation to a judging panel of business executives and venture capitalists from across the nation. But before inmates make it this far, they must successfully complete PEP’s three-month character development program called Leadership Academy. Then they move into PEP’s core program, the six-month business plan competition that leads to a Certificate in Entrepreneurship from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business.

Jay Wall, a Houston-area real estate developer, says the program “is all about changing the trajectory for these young men.” They can succeed and fairly quickly. “They just need to be willing to listen,” Wall says. “We come here because we want to help, and we believe in what is going on inside these walls.”

Bert Smith, CEO of the PEP program, begins the day by bringing the people in the gymnasium to silence. He speaks about Gideon, an Israelite judge, and the amen choruses from the assembled prisoners begin. “I have always thought of Gideon as a hero, but when God came looking for a leader, Gideon’s response was, why me?” Smith tells them. Gideon, who thought of himself as nothing special, is a reminder to those assembled that he was divinely selected to free the Lord’s people. Before I even arrive at Cleveland Correctional, Smith tells me that PEP doesn’t really do ministry at the 40-acre minimum security prison. “It’s not a faith-based program,” he declares. But coming inside these walls makes me think of the celebration of the Prodigal Son’s return in Luke’s Gospel, which is clearly a picture of the embrace believers can expect from their heavenly Father. Several times during the day Smith jokes with volunteers and inmates that the prison is “our own private gated community.” He tells the visitors, “Whoever came in here looking for caged animals will be sorely disappointed.”

Smith will lead and help instruct prisoners on pitching their entrepreneurial ideas and start-ups to the “venture panels.” Smith describes it as something akin to the hit television show “Shark Tank.” He tells me the inmates, in putting together their business plans, become virtual experts in important concepts, such as what competitive advantage their start-ups bring to the marketplace. Inmates are critiqued fairly, but with little patronizing or sympathy for their plight.

The program, which launched in 2004, addresses the huge need for positive reintegration of convicts into productive civilian life. When most inmates are released, they can’t find a job. A felony conviction is devastating in any job market. Almost 75 percent of PEP graduates are employed within 30 days of release, and 100 percent are employed within 90 days. Many inmates choose to live in transition homes provided by the program when they are released so they are fully plugged into a community and network that provides opportunities to succeed. The program’s three-year success rate is as high as 95 percent. In 2013, Baylor University determined that PEP delivers a 340 percent return on investment for every dollar donated to the program.

PEP also boasts of a low recidivism rate. After three years, less than six percent of PEP graduates are repeat offenders, compared to 23 percent of non-PEP graduates. To be eligible for the program inmates must not be incarcerated for a sex crime, must be within three years of release, and must possess a high school diploma or GED, all while making a commitment to change.

Natalie Baker, executive relations manager for PEP, oversees an ice breaker exercise that helps inmates and visitors connect. She lines up prisoners and volunteers face-to-face. The two groups take a step forward if they have something in common, such as coming from a broken home, experiencing a history of being incarcerated, or having used illegal drugs. For the most part, the similarities are evident. The exercise is a reminder to inmates that success is not out of their reach and to volunteers that the inmates aren’t unlike them.

Baker, who has a law degree and MBA, spent four years in prison when she seriously injured two motorists while driving drunk in Florida. She admits her transition out of prison was much more difficult than her actual incarceration. Baker was harassed and turned down for jobs despite holding two advanced degrees.

Otis Rogers, a 33-year-old inmate from Cleveland, Mississippi, was apprehended while transporting drugs from Texas to his home state. Rogers says the PEP program has been critical for pointing out the flaws in his character. “It’s a great program, and I really like it,” he told me. Rogers pitches the idea of a barbershop named “Picture Perfect Haircuts,” which would also specialize as a dry cleaning service. The business panelists who review his pitch aggressively challenge the notion of a joint barbershop and dry cleaning shop, suggesting Rogers commit to one or the other.

Being from out of state, Rogers’s story differs a little than some of the others in the program. When I caught up with him later in the day he says he is due to be released later this summer. He seems unsure as to whether he will open a barbershop and appears more excited about an opportunity in Mississippi working as a truck driver, a job he previously held. “I will be released before the graduation day from this program, but I plan on coming back with some of my family for the ceremony,” says Rogers.

Thirty-four-year-old Stevon Harris pitches the idea of a welding business, an industry in which he seems to have considerable experience and skill despite initially seeming a little shy or unsure of himself.

Inmates in PEP are given “sweet names” to help shed former gang nicknames and their rough reputation. Harris is also known as “Chris Tucker,” presumably named after the Hollywood actor and comedian. He says the program has taught him character, self-discipline, and brotherhood. “It really took the people around me in PEP to bring certain issues to my attention,” he says.

Character assessments are a big part of PEP, and most of the inmates I talk with admit this is the most challenging part of the program. One inmate describes it as akin to standing in front of a mirror all day while others give you constant correction. Another inmate says it’s essential because “you need to have somebody covering your blind spot.” Inmates are confronted with their faults and what they need to do to not only make changes but also be held accountable for their words and actions.

I ask Harris, who is scheduled for release in 2017, if the program is what he expected, and he freely admits it is a lot different. “Honestly, at first, I was looking for something that I thought was going to be much easier and a handout,” he says. “But through PEP now I can visualize my own business plan, and I see others who are released from here but come back to share their success stories.” Eligible inmates from all over Texas can apply for a transfer to the Cleveland facility for the program. Not all who apply will be admitted.

I question a 40-year-old inmate from South Texas about the ones that drop out, a topic I haven’t seen addressed in any of the media coverage or PEP testimonials. “A lot of people do leave the program,” he confides. “They simply can’t handle the homework, and there is a lot of after-hours work and preparation they are not willing to embrace.”

The business plan competition requires 1,000 hours of classroom time over six months. That works out to several hours of homework per night. Inmates study college textbooks and read novels like “Crime and Punishment,” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

One of the best and most animated venture plans comes from a young and very personable inmate named Joshua Moore. He looks younger than his 30 years, and he tells me he was sent to prison for bringing drugs into a school zone. “I’ve seen some people come out of prison like a broken down Vietnam War vet,” Moore says. “I didn’t want to live like that. That’s why I got involved in the PEP program.”

Moore’s “sweet name” is Marvin the Martian, and his business is “Ooh-La-La Auto Spa.” He even has a jingle ready for the pitch and has clearly thought extensively about how to market the auto cleaning and detailing business. The competition judges give him largely positive feedback and offer further suggestions such as tips for servicing vehicles while clients are at work. The name of the business, with its sexual overtones, is catchy. And after Moore’s presentation, I am fairly convinced it has a legitimate chance at success in part because I can’t help but be drawn in by the infectious personality of the “Ooh-La-La” mastermind.

Moore, who writes me a short letter along with some of the other inmates after my visit, personalizes his note with something I told him about my life and our conversations at the facility. Some of these guys really know how to network.

Joshua McComas, 27, says his favorite part of the program is the way volunteers come inside to give entrepreneurial instruction and critique. “The effort these volunteers put fort is important for us,” he says. “That feedback is essential, and I actually use it to improve myself. I mean, all these people come in and smile at us, and my own family won’t even smile at me.” McComas says PEP “is actually going to give me a chance to support my family.” He talks about vowing to “have something of substance to show my son, once my son allows me back into his life.”

It is easy to forget you are inside a prison while attending a PEP event, but in the afternoon we are interrupted several times by guards for inmate roll call. The steady interruptions seem a little out of the ordinary, even for prison. While there is no violence at Cleveland Correctional while I am there, I find out later that day that a serious prison riot broke out at the Willacy County Correctional Facility near Harlingen, along the border with Mexico.

After more inmates are grilled on their business plans, state regulatory laws, and start-up costs, everybody settles back into the gymnasium for a celebration, testimonials, and dancing. Volunteers who are first-time visitors to the program are required to dance for whooping inmates and offer up their own testimonial of the day’s experience.

A PEP skeptic might feel like some elements are carefully choreographed for maximum buy-in and emotion. But it’s hard to argue with the authenticity of many of the inmates and the entrepreneurial skills and knowledge that have been ingrained in more than 100 participants. PEP’s successful statistics are not going unnoticed by politicians either. Texas’s senior U.S. Senator John Cornyn lavishes the program with praise, saying it is “reforming lives” and “strengthening Texas communities.” There are plans to expand the program in Texas and possibly across the nation.

There’s a common feeling that many of the inmates have been changed more by the character assessment side of the program, rather than the rigorous academic work required to participate and graduate from PEP. It’s clear that inmates understand that if they are going to receive a shot at redemption, it will require much more than entrepreneurial and financial success. Many, but not all, speak freely and openly about their Christian faith and credit that for their transformation and success.

At the end of what could be described as a prison revival, Smith shouts to the assembled, “These men are determined not to let past outcomes determine the future.” This reminds me of something similar written by the Apostle Paul, when he was hopelessly wrapped in chains. He told the Church at Philippi, “What has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.”

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

The following was written by PEP Class 22 graduate, Barry M. 


PEP Graduate, Barry M.

PEP Graduate, Barry M.

I have spent most of my adult life incarcerated.

For most of this time, I thought I was just a bad person. I thought “I was born this way and there is nothing that I can do about it. I will spend the rest of my life in and out of prison.”

But when PEP supporters like you met me in prison earlier this year, they brought me a very different message. They told me: “You have value.”

By spending a day in prison with total strangers, people like you convinced me that I was not a bad person … I had just been making bad choices. They taught me that, if I made a sincere commitment to myself, I could change.

PEP supporters like you taught me that my past did not have to dictate my future.

This all started when I was sitting in my cell on the Coffield Unit in East Texas. That morning, I received a postcard inviting me to apply to PEP. I asked the others on my cellblock about PEP. They told me not to bother applying because I would never get in.

To be honest, I believed them. But I also knew that it was going to be hard to gain employment with a felony on my record. So, I loved the idea of starting my own business.

But then I met PEP’s recruiter, Marcus Hill. He had served our country in the Army and was now a successful entrepreneur. But I was shocked when I learned that, in between those things, he had spent time in prison. Just like me.

Marcus told me that PEP was much more than a business program. He told me that if I was just applying because I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I would not be accepted. But if I was applying because I needed to change – because I was desperate for a change and willing to go to any length to get it – that I had a chance.

Thankfully, I gave myself that chance.

From the moment that I walked into PEP, my life has not been the same. It feels like I’m in a dream, except I know it’s for real. Although PEP is very challenging, the rewards are greater than anything I could have possibly imagined back in that cell in Coffield.

You truly changed the lives of men like me
by supporting PEP.

The business lessons that you offered us were exceptional. And I have to admit, I am pretty proud of the business plan that I put together! But honestly, what impacted me the most was PEP’s focus on character development.

By guiding me through these programs, people like you helped me to change my thought process. From the thoughts that I think to the words that I speak, you have cleaned me from the inside out.

When I look in the mirror now, I like the man who is looking back. That is something that I could not say for a very, very long time. Thank you for giving me that gift.

To repay you, I am committed to changing the lives of others through my story. But I cannot do it without PEP, and PEP cannot exist without your support. I hope that you will consider donating $22 in honor of Class 22, which graduates this Christmas.

Your gifts matter. They make a difference to men like me, to our families, and to our community. Please go online to www.PEP.org to donate today.

​With gratitude,

Barry M.
Class “Transcendent” 22

p.s. ​The PEP Board of Directors has committed $190,000 in matching funds for every new donation before 12/31/2014! That means that a gift of $22 becomes $44 – enough to sponsor a month of bus passes for men looking for work after release from prison!

Better still … if you can make a monthly commitment, the board will match your commitment $2-to-1 based on the annual value of your gift. That means that committing $10 per month will secure $240 in matching funds for PEP before the end 2014. If you are interested, please email Charles Hearne at CHearne@PEP.org. Thank you for any commitment you can make!

The following was written by PEP Class 18 graduate, John C. 


john c

PEP Class 18 Graduate, John C.

I thank God for putting PEP in my life. I can honestly say that without PEP I would certainly be lost. The program really taught me how to seize the moment, instilling confidence within me. Because of PEP, I know now that I can succeed and that my goals and dreams are attainable.

A great man within PEP once told me that a man without a plan ultimately plans to fail. He let me know that every great business man knows the value of his family, and he is always aware of who is “riding on his bus”.

The invaluable training given to me by PEP on the inside, although mentally straining and severely intense, prepared me for the obstacles sure to come my way upon release. I learned that life is what you make of it. No one is dealt the same hand, and the only thing that matters in the end is how you play the hand you’ve been dealt.

Upon release I was faced with a GPS monitor, parole and probation. I also had two of the most important women in my life play the roles of surrogate parole and probation officers (I love you, Mom!). Along with two AA classes, PEP eSchool, a job, community service and two beautiful children that required much of my attention, there was no time to waste. Losing focus was never an option. But with all my PEP brothers and extended PEP family in my corner rooting me on, success was the only viable outcome. What a great feeling to know that I am not driving a rundown bus on spare tires. Instead, I am chauffeuring a world class charter bus and the passengers are all ready to help me drive if begin to fall asleep.

But I am glad to report that I am not asleep at the wheel. I recently graduated eSchool. I have also successfully completed my parole requirements and have been once and for all cut free from that GPS monitor! I attend AA meetings now, not because I have to, but because it is one of the many practices I believe I should carry on to ensure my continual success.

Honestly, if I can do it, anybody can. All it takes is a little faith in God and the support of amazing people, like those I have in my PEP family.

Thank you for the opportunity to share.

John C.
Class 18 Graduate

The following was written by PEP Class 8 graduate, Cristian H. 


cristian h

Cristiam H., PEP Class 8 Graduate

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under Heaven.
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance…”

Hope came for me at a time in my life when death at a young age was normal for a kid from my neighborhood. A millionth second chance was presented to me, and it was time to make a decision, once and for all.

I was raised well by my parents, and they did the best they could to keep me on a path of righteousness. I rebelled due to a desire to fit in with my “friends”. I struggled with a deep sense of inadequacy and this only fueled my desire to belong. Sin caught my attention at an early age and kept me wanting more until the age of 21, when I found myself in the county jail with several felony assault charges. I called my family with apologies and good-byes.

I cried out loud with tears in Bexar County Jail, praying Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s, desperately hoping that God would hear me. He heard me and my tears went away. But I still had to pay for my crimes. I was sentenced to three concurrent two year sentences in TDC.

I entered PEP six months before the end of my sentence. After reviewing the PEP application, I knew it was ‘a God thing’. I joyfully signed up and was accepted. PEP has been in my life ever since. God has used PEP to build my character. I have been educated and equipped for success in all endeavors thru PEP. PEP is a refuge, a brotherhood and a lifelong relationship. My story is full of ups and downs pre- and post-PEP. But through it all, I am better, not bitter. Through it all, PEP is still there for me. And through it all, I will continue to move forward, focused on living a life filled with purpose. Without God and without PEP, who knows where I would be today.

Cristian H.
PEP Class 8

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. Now is the time, today is the day of salvation.”

Read similar testimonials from other graduates here.

The following was written by PEP Class 18 graduate, Devon S. 


Devon S.

Devon S.

“After my fifth time receiving a one year set off and being denied parole, I started to really wonder how many years I would serve on my 20-year sentence. Then one day soon after, I received a letter from one of my brothers. He told me I should look into a program that he graduated from called PEP. He said PEP gave him the skills and the knowledge necessary to start his own business. But most importantly, PEP helped him to change his destructive thinking patterns.

So I put in a request, by using what we called an “I-60,” to classification asking what I needed to do to be a part of this program.

About two weeks later, I was on the chain headed to pre-release at the Cleveland Unit! My second day there, I was approached by my future classmate Aaron B., and he asked me if I was here for the program. “What program”, I asked. When he told me PEP, I immediately knew God was working His mighty hand! Marcus and Pat allowed me to join the program, even though I still had 14 years left on my sentence. I haven’t looked back since.

After being released, I married the woman of my dreams, my first true love. I relocated from Austin to Houston to take up residence at a PEP transitional house, and within 35 days of my release, and with PEP’s assistance, I was employed! I went to school and obtained my commercial driver license (CDL), and after searching for months on my own for a position and coming up short, I was able to obtain employment through PEP’s vast network!

The month of September 2014 marks my first full year since being released from prison. Without God, my wife and of course PEP, none of this would be possible. Thank you, PEP!

By the way, the I-60 request I sent out to classification asking about the program finally caught up to me at the Cleveland Unit over a month after I started class. The response was ‘you have to be interviewed to be considered for the program’.

I still have it today!

Devon S.
Class 18 Graduate

Read similar testimonials from other graduates here.

The following was written by PEP Class 15 graduate, David F. David is also a loyal donor to PEP.


 

David F

David F.

“I’ve never been out of jail or prison for more than a year at a time. Praise God, I have now been a free man for three years and counting!

I have accomplished many things since my release, things the old me would have never thought were possible.

At the age of 40, I acquired my first credit card and I was able to finance a vehicle through my bank. I was able to do these things because of lessons I learned in PEP. They taught me how to establish credit, and as a result of that training, my credit score has gone up 150 points!

I am also a legitimate business man today. I have obtained my DBA and I now have a business account. My plan is to be open for business by the end of 2015.

I know PEP was sent into my life by God. They have shown me the kind of love and affection no one ever has. PEP gave me a ride to work for three months when I had no other means of transportation. They allowed me to borrow a vehicle to take my driving exam and purchased work clothes for me when I became employed. PEP was as committed to my success as I was.

I always have someone to talk to within the organization if I need counsel, or just need to share. They flew my mother and two sisters in from Orlando, Florida just to see me graduate. PEP donors even provided them with a rental car!

I would like to thank PEP for my transformation. Without them, I would not be where I am today.”

David F.
Class 15 Graduate

Read similar testimonials from other graduates here.

The following was written by PEP Class 13 graduate, Lance N.


lance nI thought doing my time in prison and getting my life in order when I came home would be something I could handle alone. Then PEP came into my life. When I arrived at PEP, I didn’t know what I had gotten myself into, much less what was in store for me. There was so much to study! So much homework, and there were tests, too. Then came the events where I met the executives and staff. I was blown away by all of the knowledge, love, and support that PEP offered me. I saw myself change so much as I finished my time in prison and grew with PEP.

When it was time to leave prison, I had no home to go to. PEP picked me up, took me to eat, gave me a re-entry gift, and took me home to a PEP transitional house. PEP helped me to acquire new glasses, to get my driver’s license, and provided me with bus passes. Before my incarceration, my work experience had been primarily white collar so I had a difficult time finding a job after my release. But PEP helped me get my first job. I continued to grow and to learn as I attended and graduated from eSchool. Thanks to PEP, I am now a very different person in many positive ways.

In thanks for everything PEP has done and continues to do, I give back with my time, and also my monthly donations as a PEP Partner. Looking back, I see that I couldn’t have successfully transitioned by myself. Thank you PEP… for everything.

Lance N.
PEP Class 13

Read similar testimonials from other graduates here.

The following was written by PEP Class 19 graduate, Adam C.


adam cI never thought I would be so successful, though this success has nothing to do with how much money I have, where I live or what school I attend. My success is measured by every moment I get to live, move and breath freedom.

Freedom to start again, freedom to choose again, freedom to redemption…

Being released from prison did not give me that. Though I was released from prison, this did not make me free. With the help of PEP, executive volunteers and my brothers, freedom came from the inside.

I have heard it said that the heart of the problem is not with man, but the problem with man is his heart. With my heart turned towards things like drugs, the wrong friends and a criminal lifestyle, I had no choice but to find myself within the confinements of a prison cell at 17 for six and a half years of my life, serving time for robbery and burglary of a habitation.

The issues of my life sprung forth from my heart and I am not alone. The youngest of three brothers, I am bearing the burden of redeeming the heart. With my eldest passing away from a fatal gunshot wound while I was in prison, and my other brother facing the consequence of a life sentence, I had no hope that beauty could rise from the ashes of this brokenhearted young man.

Today, closing in on one year after being released from prison, and thanks to PEP’s re-entry team, I am gainfully employed by my boss and brother Jeff, a PEP Class 8 graduate himself. I have been able to finance my very first car and gain my very first apartment I call home. I have a new affection.

I am thankful I chose accountability. I am thankful PEP chose me and grateful to those who make this life change possible for men like me. And I would guess that if you are reading this, you are one of those people. So, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

 

Adam C.

PEP Class 19

Read similar testimonials from other graduates 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.