Posts Tagged ‘pep donors’

PEP helps former inmates make a positive impact on their community. To read the full story, click here.

Opp

“What if you were known for the worst thing that you have ever done?” That’s the question at the center of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, a nonprofit that helps convicted felons get a fresh start in life.

When a prison sentence is over, it can be tough for former inmates to move forward. It’s hard to find a job, engage in their communities in positive ways, and turn their lives around. In his 2004 State of the Union Address, George W. Bush said, “We know from long experience that if [former prisoners] can’t find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit more crimes and return to prison…. America is the land of the second chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.” In Texas, PEP works to make that path easier to find, and easier to walk.

Prison Initiatives Manager Patrick McGee spoke recently at the State Policy Network Conference in Nashville, explaining that inmates “have potential, but nobody believes in them.” McGee knows what that is like. Born to a young single mother, he saw her taking government assistance and, he said, “that trained me how to struggle.”

Looking back, he realizes that the circumstances of his birth didn’t have to dictate his life. “Poverty, it may have been inherited, but it was something I did not have to exist in,” McGee said.

After serving time in prison, McGee turned his life around and — through his involvement with PEP — he now helps other men with criminal records to succeed. One of the first tasks new participants are given is to write a eulogy for themselves. This forces them to take a look at their lives and think about what people would say about them if they were gone.

“We work with those whom society has cast off, and instead of sending them back out to commit more crime, we hook them up with legitimate skills and challenge them to maintain high standards for their lives,” PEP’s website explains. Inmates are connected with entrepreneurs, CEOs, and top executives to learn the skills that will lead to success after re-integration.

Prison Entrepreneurship Program participants live by the four Gs: gather, grow, give, and go back to communities.

The first 36 hours after a prisoner’s release are crucial. Former inmates find themselves vulnerable, frequently without a support system that will be conducive to positive change. PEP is there to help with that as well. The organization provides some bare essentials, such as a care package and a place to stay, as well as clothes for job interviews, parole mediation and transportation. Family is critical to PEP, so the group works with families to assist with reunifications and connect participants with local churches. When participants have re-entered society, PEP is there to help them get on their feet.

Former inmates meet weekly to discuss entrepreneurship and are frequently joined by business leaders who mentor them as they look for work. For many, PEP is their avenue to their first legitimate job. Participants are trained in everything from negotiation, marketing and web development to portfolio management and taxation. PEP can even provide small amounts of start-up capital and a $500 reimbursement once Entrepreneurship School (eSchool) is complete, a process that takes place over the course of at least 20 workshops. Above all, these men must earn their help.

“We don’t do handouts,” McGee said.

The results speak for themselves. PEP boasts three-year success rates of up to 95 percent, and a recent study by Baylor University has found that the program has a return on investment of an astounding 340 percent, thanks to reduced recidivism, increased child support payments and less reliance on government assistance.

The organization receives no government funding and, perhaps most telling, 25 percent of PEP’s donors are graduates of the program. Checking out the testimonials on their YouTube Channel, it’s not hard to see why.

As McGee puts it, “To see someone take a hand up and run with it, that’s a beautiful thing.”

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.

Actonlogo

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.”

Read on for the most recent coverage of how our programs change lives!

http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/Texas-Prison-Program-Aims-to-Produce-Business-Savvy-Inmates-288584471.html

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!

thermometer

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
CEO

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.

Giving LibraryThe Giving Library has put up another $20,000 to support nonprofits like PEP.

You can help us to win it!

At NO COST to you, The Giving Library will donate to PEP if you:

  1. Go to http://www.givinglibrary.org/organizations/prison-entrepreneurship-program
  2. Click “Share Now” to share it on Facebook or Twitter
  3. PEP gets $5!

Thank you!

Monte Pendleton in Prison

Long-time volunteer and PEP Houston Advisory Board member Monte Pendleton

WOOHOO!!! YOU DID IT!

Thanks to supporters like you, we exceeded our goal of $100,000 to meet the PEP Governing Board’s challenge!

Beginning May 1, 2013, we worked to raise these funds towards the launch of our 20th Class. Last Friday, “Tenacious 20” had their kickoff event … and a group of individual donors pooled their resources and put us over the top in remarkable fashion!

What’s even more incredible is that a significant number of donors joined our growing list of monthly contributors. We now have nearly ninety people — many of whom are graduates of our program — making monthly donations by credit card or automatic bank transfer.

We call these monthly donors “PARTNERS.” This is in recognition of their commitment to sustaining our work so that our team can focus on growing our impact.

We are deeply grateful to the many people who participated in this campaign. On top of these gifts, we were also able to raise several very significant foundation grants that will allow us to strengthen our mission over the coming months. Your support of our work is making an incredible difference — thank you!

Together, we are transforming prison!

David Blanchard in prison

Executive volunteer David Blanchard entering prison through PEP

On July 19, 2013, the Prison Entrepreneurship Program will launch Class 20 with one of our largest classes to date!

This class also will mark an important milestone for PEP. Our 1,000th graduate will walk across stage with Class 20 on December 13, 2013!

Your support of PEP will make this possible. Donors like you provide 100% of the funds that we need to deliver our programs, and we could not operate without your gifts.

We have received a challenge grant that will match every dollar that we raise up to $100,000 … but only if we can raise the funds by July 19, 2013. You can turn every dollar that you donate into twice the impact thanks to the generosity of our Governing Board, who are providing this amazing opportunity to PEP.

You can track our progress on this challenge live here,
and also see the contributions from others.

Funds will ensure that these men receive all of the support that they need to earn not only a diploma from PEP, but a Certificate in Entrepreneurship from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business (see link here to learn more).

It takes around $1,500 to sponsor a participant’s quest for their college certificate. Half of those funds are being put up by our Board of Directors — but only if you help us to raise the other half.

Help us to beat this challenge by donating today!

See you in prison,

Jeremy Gregg
Chief Development Officer
www.PEP.org

teddy bears

Sponsor a bear — only $15!

Class 18 will graduate on December 7th — and the members of “Extraordinary 18” are very excited that hundreds of their family members will gather to watch them cross the stage in a cap-and-gown.

For some, it will be their first time to ever see their children since they were incarcerated.

One of our special traditions at PEP is providing our men with a teddy bear that we purchase from a national retailer at a bargain price of only $15!!! Our graduates decorate the bears for their kids, and give them to the children as an outward symbol of an inner promise to never return to prison again.

Thankfully, past PEP graduates have already sponsored dozens of these bears. But are opening up this opportunity to the community this year so that each child in attendance at the graduation will receive a bear from their Father.

The cost to you is only $15 — but the impact on the child is beyond value.

If you would like to donate please email Info@PEP.org or go to http://pep.org/bears/.

Thank you for your support!

amerisource fundingIt is official!

Thanks to the lead sponsorship from Amerisource Funding, our 2012 eSchool Graduation is officially sold out!

At this graduation, we will honor over 30 men who began transforming their lives while still behind bars through PEP‘s in-prison Business Plan Competition. After their release, these men reestablished their lives in the free world and dedicated themselves to continuing their education through our weekly Entrepreneurship School (eSchool) in Dallas and Houston. We are now celebrating their completion of this second step in their journey from inmate to entrepreneur.

We are pleased to announce that our keynote speaker will be Ryan Mack, author of “Living in the Village” and frequent contributor to CNN, BET and others. You can learn more about Ryan Mack here.

Thank you to our event sponsors!

Lead Investor
Amerisource Funding

Venture Capitalists
The Energists
Stellus Capital Management
Judy & Jon Goodale

Angel Investors
RKI*
Accenture
Alex Anaxagoras and Genie Erneta
DFS Worldwide
Marcia & Bill Frank
JITA Printing
Silver Fox Advisors
Pam & Phil Rundle
* Purchased two tables