Posts Tagged ‘prison entrepreneurship’

PEP was recently filmed by the Charles Koch Institute, and the video was shown at its Advancing Justice Conference this month in New Orleans! Check it out to hear PEP staff members, graduates and participants explain how our organization is making a dent in a system that wants to forever keep felons under its thumb.

Last week PEP CEO, Bert Smith, attended the annual Philanthropy Roundtable in Las Colinas, TX. Read on to learn why PEP is considered one of the “stars of Texas” in the nonprofit realm. To read the full story and listen to the audio, click here.
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Donating to charity is big business. Last year, $358 billion was given out and 80 percent of that came from individuals. The Philanthropy Roundtable is a national nonprofit that helps donors give wisely.

That group’s in Las Colinas for its annual meeting. And some standout North Texas groups were invited too.

KERA

Nonprofits are built on passion and ideals. They can only survive with support.

For example, CEO Heather Reynolds says it takes an annual budget of $28 million to run Catholic Charities Fort Worth.

“That pays for 400 staff and all costs associated with that as well as direct assistance for clients, and that allows us to serve about 100,000 clients each year,” she says.

By doing things like paying for utility bills, credit counseling, hosting dental clinics and job training.

“We’re a business at Catholic Charities Fort Worth, we just happen to be in the business of helping people,” Reynolds says.

Another North Texas nonprofit, the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, helps inmates develop an original business plan. During the first year felons get out of prison, their unemployment rate hovers close to 60 percent.

“Every one of our graduates for five years running has found his first job or started a business within 90 days of release, every one of them,” says Bert Smith, who heads up the program.

Smith and Heather Reynolds were both invited to speak at the Philanthropy Roundtable’s annual meeting — their organizations were highlighted as “stars of Texas.”

Connecting big donors with well-run nonprofits is the whole point of this meeting. Jo Kwong, the Roundtable’s director of economic opportunity, says handing out money isn’t as easy as it sounds.

“When you have money to give away everyone’s your best friend,” she says. “So you can just respond to everybody who comes to your door or you could think about what’s the problem you want to solve?”

Only donors who give $100,000 or more a year are allowed to attend this meeting — groups like the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation from Kansas City and the Connelly Foundation from Philadelphia.

Despite the presence of half a dozen Texas nonprofits, it’s not a sales pitch. It’s about learning how to invest wisely and also sidestepping organizations that might not be above board.

“Sometimes the ones that spend a lot of money putting commercials on TV and are household names are the ones who spend all their money putting ads on TV,” Kwong says. “And then you have to dig down: What are they actually doing?”

Hopefully, good work across their community. Bert Smith says the Prison Entrepreneurship Program’s record speaks for itself.

“There are more than 200 businesses now that have been started by graduates of the program and six of them are at a scale where they will generate more than a million dollars in revenue this year,” he says.

A number even the big donor crowd can respect.

Check out our most recent write-up in the Houston Forward Times! Read the full story here.
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Houstonforwardtimes

Who really believes in giving second chances to someone who is already considered a failure?

Many people wonder about today’s society. Most do not think someone in an unfortunate circumstance could make the most of a chance they are given. Is opportunity only for the more fortunate citizens of the United States of America or can anyone rebound after getting knocked down?

Not many people can honestly say they believe in that today. However, this is not the case for the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP).

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) is a Houston-based 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization that was established in 2004. At PEP, they are servant leaders on a mission to transform inmates to executives by unlocking human potential through entrepreneurial passion, education and mentoring. Their groundbreaking results include a return-to-prison rate of less than 7%, an employment rate of 100% within 90 days of release and over 185 businesses launched by graduates of the program. They have pioneered innovative programs that connect the nation’s top executives, entrepreneurs and MBA students with convicted felons.

PEP’s team knows from experience that prison is a storehouse of untapped potential. Many inmates come to prison as seasoned entrepreneurs who happened to run illegitimate businesses. Once equipped with education and life skills training, the ROI potential for the truly reformed prisoner, his family and his community is limitless.

Charles Hearne is the Houston Executive Relations Manager for PEP, and believes the program continues to make a great impact in our communities.

“Our entrepreneurship boot camp and re-entry programs, which include spiritual and character development courses, are proven for maximizing self-sufficiency and transforming broken lives,” said Hearne.

Former Wall Street professional Catherine Rohr founded PEP in May of 2004 after she toured a prison and noticed that executives and inmates had more in common than most would think. They know how to manage others to get things done.

Rohr wondered what would happen if inmates who were committed to their own transformation were equipped to start and run legitimate companies. Following an unusual calling, Rohr left behind her New York career and financial stability, moved to Texas started a one-of-a-kind “behind bars” business plan competition. Her efforts were geared toward channeling the entrepreneurial passions and influential personalities of the inmates—intentionally recruiting former gang leaders, drug dealers and hustlers.

She quickly realized the entrepreneurial ability of the men inside of those prisons and wanted a way to show how successful those men could be on the other side if they were cultivated correctly.

Even the most unsophisticated drug dealers inherently understand business concepts such as competition, profitability, risk management and proprietary sales channels. For both executives and inmates, passion is instinctive.

The overwhelming response of 55 inmates and 15 world-class executives to judge the business plans and presentations was the catalyst to launch the Prison Entrepreneurship Program.

While Rohr resigned in 2009, the organization has continued to grow and prosper. PEP now graduates more men than ever before, and the results are better than ever and remain the best in the prison rehabilitation field.

PEP has been picking up steam and has come a long way since 2004. Although based in Cleveland, TX, PEP is associated with prisons in other states that have embraced this revolutionary idea.

“The goal is to affect the tipping point in Texas prisons,” said Hearne. “About 43,000 men are released throughout the year in Texas prisons. We want to be in a situation where we are affecting about 10 percent of those men. So essentially we want to affect about 4,300 men a year.”

PEP has only two units and roughly graduates 300 men per year. Although they have not fully met their target goal, they are getting closer.

Many of the men who go through PEP have amazing ideas. Some have wanted to open meat markets, while others have wanted to open pool companies.

“Some of the men have actually owned businesses before and already have legitimate business knowledge,” said Hearne. “Those men would take their own business plan, revamp it and use that information and knowledge to build a business they already had information on.”

PEP has established more than 200 different businesses, and of those 200, at least 6 of them will be performing at the million dollar revenue range by the end of the year.

A true testimony on how PEP has helped different individuals get up after being knocked down in life is Hearne, who not only serves as the Executive Relations Manager, but is also a former participant in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the Prison Entrepreneurship Program.” said Hearne. “I’ve been out of the program for a little more than two years and I’d already made up my mind after I got incarcerated that the things I was doing wasn’t working for me. So it was time to have a change of heart, a change of surroundings and do things differently. Being a part of PEP set me on a trajectory faster than what I could have accomplished on my own. In the 2 ½ years I have been out, I have completed about 5 semesters of college and will be graduating next spring. I have given back to the community in different ways, such as community engagement and volunteer services. I have become a true contributor to society by way of Prison Entrepreneurship Program.”

PEP is an outstanding program that has directly and indirectly helped thousands of lives every year since it was established.

If you are looking for more information, or if you know someone who could use helpful information about this program, please visit http://www.PEP.org to learn more about the program.

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program has proven that everyone deserves a second chance, and more importantly, you should never judge a book by its cover.

Houston timber company, Building Products Plus, has had great success hiring PEP graduates. Read the full PR Underground article here.
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PR underground

Building Products Plus, a Houston-based company that manufactures and supplies extended life structural building materials, has found success in hiring employees through the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, (PEP). Having hired seven program graduates within the last year, the company’s President, Dorian Benn, is “more than pleased” with the results of these employees. Of the seven BPP hired during the last year, five have stayed and made a real difference both in their own lives and as employees.

The PEP Program

The PEP program operates in 60+ prisons in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, with all operations based out of the Cleveland Correctional Center. In 2013 Baylor University researchers conducted a study of PEP’s results vs other similar programs in Texas. PEP outperformed the other nine rehabilitation programs’ recidivism rates by 70%.

While program members must complete and present a business plan, including a multi-year financial plan, in order to graduate, they do not have to start the business once released. They are encouraged to find employment using the skills and knowledge obtained while in the program, and that might not always be by starting their own business.

Bert Smith, CEO of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program is proud to report that since the program began 11 years ago, 185 graduates of the 1100 total have started businesses. Of those 185, four of those business are forecasted to gross $1 million, each, this year alone, as well as creating 25 jobs, combined. “Don’t judge the man by the label. Never assume he’s not capable of living a different life.” Smith says.

An “Attitude of Gratitude”

Building Products Plus is certainly an advocate for this program. They have an “attitude of gratitude” says Benn, “I don’t look at them any differently. They needed a job, we had an opening. They are grateful and eager to succeed. It’s a better life.”

One such program graduate, Rocky Arnold, was hired as a Mill Coordinator over a year ago. Since then he has been promoted to Mill Supervisor, and then to Operations Manager. He often returns to the program he is immensely thankful for and mentors those still going through the program. BPP has hired all ranges of program graduates from truck drivers to salesmen. Their training and experiences from previous jobs and education combined with life skills and spiritual connections made in the PEP are key ingredients for their success.

Smith states that there aren’t any official partnerships with specific businesses, “just good relationships forged by the graduates themselves,” which appears to work well. Based on the success of the employees at Building Products Plus, Benn intends to remain an active business partner of the PEP, and adds “The program shows them that they can have a better life. They can succeed honestly and with hard work their reintegration isn’t nearly as scary or unsure. They have a solid base and support. We’re happy we found them.”

My name is Jason and I was asked to write about my experience with PEP. When considering how a program has changed your life, it is easy to get caught up in the rites and rituals and begin to think of that program, any program, as a series of steps to be taken to reach a goal.

To me, PEP is so much more than that. To be sure, there are procedures and there are rites of passage, but I cannot look at these as mere steps; they are tools to be used, remembered, called upon in times of need, and passed on to those who come after us. PEP is a living, breathing entity embodied by the men trying to change their lives, the PEP staff, and the volunteers that offer so much encouragement.

Jason Bowles

I joined the Navy at 18, straight out of high school, and thought that I had the world pretty much figured out. The problem was that there was one thing I did not completely understand; I had no real idea of who I was. I allowed myself to be defined by the people around me and when I did not fit in with them, a few drinks made everything go a little more smoothly. I had no intention of becoming an alcoholic, but then who does?

Fast forward a couple of decades and my life was in shambles. I had spent the greater part of my adult life either on a barstool, recovering from my last hangover, or planning my next one. I knew my life was wasted and going nowhere, but I had no earthly idea how to change it, so I took the easy way and did nothing to make any improvements whatsoever. Like alcoholics the world over, I hid in a bottle and perpetuated my downward spiral.

I had never thought of myself as someone who would end up in prison and I certainly never saw incarceration as any kind of rescue. Like most of society, I viewed the penal system as a way to deal with people who did not want to play by the rules. Also like most of society, I was blind to my own hypocrisy and ignored the fact that I was no paragon of virtue.

Because of my continued alcohol abuse, I quickly learned how easily one can be sucked in and spit out by the judicial system. I also learned there is hope for everyone, no matter if they are locked in a cell by the state or locked into a pattern of self-destruction by their own choices. Hope abounds for anyone willing to work to make a better life.

For me, PEP is a life saver. I learned how much I was truly hurting myself and everyone around me by finding excuses to indulge in my weaknesses. I learned that I can be a part of a group without having to be just like everyone in it. I found out that fitting in does not mean conforming, it means contributing. Most importantly, I learned how to live with the fact that I am flawed. I have made mistakes in the past and I will make more in the future, but those mistakes do not define me; how I recover from them does.

My name is Jason and I am many things; a veteran, a son, a brother, an alcoholic, a convicted felon, a PEP graduate and a productive member of society.

Jason B.
Class 18 Graduate

The following was written by PEP Class 16 Graduate, Jason M.
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God is a master craftsman, and He has a large tool box! Inside this tool box are tools that He uses to shape, mold, and make a man into what He destined and determined him to be in eternity past.

Jason Moore

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) was one of the many tools that God used to shape me into the man I am today. I find it divinely strategic that God waited until just the right time before introducing me to PEP. I was 37 years old and had over 12 years done on a 15-year sentence for murder when my life intersected with PEP.

My life in prison up to this point had been pretty stable and structured. God was using me to teach and preach His Word. I was a pastor and mentor to many behind bars, and in their eyes and in my own, naively, I was ready for reentry. So we thought…

However, after my very first day of involvement with PEP, I quickly discovered that there were things God wanted to pull out of me and put into me, that before my release and reentry, God would work what He both needed and wanted to do in me and through me.

And he used PEP to do exactly that!

PEP was the tool God used to challenge me and make me uncomfortable in new ways. It was the tool that helped prepare me for the curveballs and the blows below the belt that this world often throws.

Since my release and reentry, PEP is still playing a similar role in my life. I am actually now working for the very program that God used to work on me. It’s still a tool in God’s hand, and He is still using it to make me into the man He created and called me to be. I’m now also a husband, father, and strong pillar in the city, community, and church. I’m almost tempted to say I’m a success, but I’m wise enough to know that when the trumpet blows, and the roll is called up yonder, God and only God will determine who is successful and unsuccessful!

Until then, I’m determined to live life “between the wings” for God’s glory and the furtherance of God’s story.

In His Service,
Jason M.
Class 16 Graduate & PEP Transition Coordinator

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!

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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 and israel

What better day than today to celebrate transformation?

These two dapper young men are not only PEP graduates, they are now PEP staff members who are also going to college thanks to some generous donors … this photo was taken before they walked into an event to thank the people who paid for their scholarships.

Whatever you have done in your past, your future will be decided by what you do TODAY. Thank you to Charles H. and Israel E. for inspiring us to dream bigger, live bolder, work harder, and love deeper!

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.

Check out this 2-minute video interview of James Cornish, PEP graduate and founder of Cornish Trucking!

James Cornish from Francisco Castro on Vimeo. This video was originally featured in The Houston Press’s article on PEP.

(If that video will not play, click here)