Posts Tagged ‘prison graduation’

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

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.

PEP Graduation in Prison

This December 13, 2013 will mark a a major milestone for the Prison Entrepreneurship Program. On that day, we will watch our 1,000th graduate cross the stage and receive a PEP diploma.

Your support made this possible.

We would love for your to join us that day in prison for the Class 20 Graduation! You will not only see over 80 members of “Tenacious Twenty” earn their Certificate of Entrepreneurship from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business, but you will be able to meet their families and loved ones.

Friday, December 13, 2013
2:00 – 5:00 pm
Cleveland, Texas
(45 minutes north of Houston)

To register, go to www.PEPrsvp.orgThis site provides directions and logistics about the event

See you in prison!

Believe in yourself -- lessons from prisoners

PEP Graduate, Ricky L., being interviewed on the radio about his involvement in PEP.

One of our graduates, Ricky L., recently shared this note, which we have adapted for this blog:

“Let me clear a few things up.

I was released from prison 8 months ago with only 100 dollars and two bags of clothes. I was working a temporary job within 2 days of release, then found a steady job within a month.

I am still employed, obtained my driver’s license, and just moved into a huge town home. All my bills are in my name, never late, and I pay my 12 year old’s phone bill every month. I also went to continuing education every Tuesday night through the Prison Entrepreneurship Program’s ‘eSchool’ program and was able to graduate with my second diploma from P. E. P.

I’m a man, and with Gods blessing I can’t fail.

I have ridden a bike in the heat and rain to achieve all this.

I won’t quit, I wont back down, and I don’t give up.

I believe in myself.”

We believe in you too, Ricky! Thank you for your dedication to building an inspiring life.

Britanie Olvera Austin TexasNearly 90 men walked across the graduation stage this past Friday … one of whom had been released from prison barely 24 hours earlier, but who returned to deliver his business pitch and walk across the graduation stage!

The celebration was joined by the largest crowd in PEP’s history: nearly 70 executive volunteers who had judged the Business Plan Competition that morning, another 50 volunteers who joined us for the graduation ceremony as well as nearly 300 family members. Together, we laughed, we cried, we gave thanks and we stood in awe of the tremendous transformation within the lives of Class “Noble Nineteen.”

One PEP Board Member, Britanie Olvera, summed it up best:

THANK YOU!!! Or Thank God—for putting this program into existence.. it’s such a delight!! I just am sorry I did not get to attend more events this class. Building a business if fine – but building new lives with people is way more important!  PEP is the best ‘environmentally friendly, heart impacting, good for your engine (mind) and carburetor (soul) on the planet’!  It’s  HI OCTANE and I love getting my tanks full of PEP…

Big news! National speaker Jeff Smith will deliver the keynote address for our Class 19 graduation. (If you would like to join us for free, click here)

As he shares in his TED talk (below), Jeff has a very intimate understanding of the need that PEP is addressing in the prison system.

Jeff Smith is Assistant Professor of Politics and Advocacy in the New School’s Urban Policy graduate program, a consultant on affordable housing policy and prison reform, and a frequent public speaker on ethics in politics. Jeff served in the Missouri Senate from 2006-2009 as the nation’s only white state senator from a black-majority district. He is a columnist for City and State and a contributor to The Recovering Politician, a popular new blog for former legislators. He has appeared on CBS, CNN, MSNBC, and Current, and has been profiled by NPR’s “This American Life,” Harper’s, The New Republic, and several other periodicals. He recently gave a TED talk (see here) on prison entrepreneurship, and has published op-ed pieces for CNN, The Atlantic, Salon, Inc., National Journal, Salon, Politico, New York Magazine, Buzzfeed, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Washington Examiner, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Graduation is the culmination of more than five months of hard work by our participants, who were hand-selected from a pool of nearly 10,000 other men across the State of Texas to enter PEP.

PEP Class 19 Graduation
Friday, June 7th
2:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Cleveland Correctional Facility
(45 minutes North of Houston)

Featuring a keynote address by former Missouri state senator (and inmate) Jeff Smith

PEP is an entrepreneurial “boot camp” that requires graduates to complete over 1,000 hours of work while developing a complete business plan. In recognition of their accomplishments, graduates will earn a Certificate in Entrepreneurship from Baylor University (learn more about these certificates here).You can learn more about the overall PEP program here.

Come ready to celebrate their accomplishments as these men open the next chapter of their lives!

To register to attend graduation, click here.

To see pictures from the last graduation event, click here.

Whether or not you can attend: Please share your best piece of advice, line of encouragement or favorite quote with our graduates! Click here.

Baylor University Certificate in Entrepreneurship

William G. was among the first PEP graduates to earn his Certificate in Entrepreneurship from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business

Graduates from the Prison Entrepreneurship Program can now earn their Certificates in Entrepreneurship from Baylor University‘s Hankamer School of Business through a new partnership between PEP and the university. See the official press release here.

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

During PEP’s Business Plan Competition at the Cleveland Correctional Center north of Houston, these inmates will pitch their business plans over 120 times — including to groups of more than 50 “free world” executives, entrepreneurs and MBA students who attend PEP’s in-prison eventsLearn more in this recent article in The New York Times.

Founded in 2004, PEP is a privately-funded nonprofit that engages executives, entrepreneurs and MBA students as volunteers in a values-based entrepreneurship boot camp that is offered within the Texas prison system. Each year, more than 5,000 inmates apply to be a part of PEP – but only the top 5 percent are selected for this elite program.

“Our graduates invest over 1,000 hours of work into our six-month Business Plan Competition class, which incorporates a college-level curriculum supplemented by Harvard MBA cases, the AP Writing Stylebook, Toastmasters, an employment workshop and a financial literacy course,” Smith said. “In addition, we focus at least half of our time on character assessment and development, built around PEP’s Ten Driving Values.”

“What impresses me the most is how these men not only complete this very rigorous program within a prison, but they do so while completing a full business plan for a real venture that they can launch after release from prison,” said Dr. Gary Carini, associate dean of the Graduate Program in Management & Entrepreneurship at the Baylor University Hankamer School of Business, and a member of the governing board for PEP.

PEP participants pitch their plans before panels of executive judges in a “Shark Tank” format at PEP’s monthly events. The presentations prepare the men for making their case in the free world – including to potential employers once they are released.

“I had been arrested four times before my 21st birthday,” said Harvey M., who graduated from PEP’s Class 10. Harvey is now rolling his first food truck in Houston. “Most of the world had written me off – but not PEP. They gave me the tools that I needed to succeed and even helped me to open my own business.”

Thanks to the preparation that they receive while in PEP, 100 percent of PEP’s graduates find a job within 90 days of release from prison. More than 120 of them have started their own businesses, including at least two that are now grossing more than $1 million in annual sales. And most impressively, the organization boasts some of the lowest recidivism rates in the country: PEP’s three-year recidivism rate has been as low as <5 percent, compared to the national average of nearly 50 percent.

“After reviewing the caliber of PEP’s curriculum and the quality of their results, Baylor University has agreed to award a Certificate in Entrepreneurship from the Hankamer School of Business to every graduate from PEP,” stated Carini.

The partnership began in December 2012, when 70 PEP graduates earned their certificates by completing the PEP Business Plan Competition class and graduating in a full cap-and-gown ceremony attended by their friends, family and PEP executive volunteers.

ABOUT PRISON ENTREPRENEURSHIP PROGRAM
Established in 2004, Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) is a Houston-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. We are servant leaders on a mission to transform inmates and executives by unlocking human potential through entrepreneurial passion, education, and mentoring. Our 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. www.PEP.org

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.

ABOUT HANKAMER SCHOOL OF BUSINESS
Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business provides a rigorous academic experience, consisting of classroom and hands-on learning, guided by Christian commitment and a global perspective. Recognized nationally for several programs, including Entrepreneurship and Accounting, the school offers 24 undergraduate and 13 graduate areas of study. Visit www.baylor.edu/business and follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Baylor_Business.

40ktarget

Help us raise $40,000 to secure a $40,000 match!

PEP just graduated our largest class yet — over 70 men earned their diplomas from PEP on December 7, 2012.

For the first time, these men also earned Certificates in Entrepreneurship from the Baylor University‘s Hankamer School of Business. These are college certificates provided in recognition of all that these men accomplished through PEP’s 5+ month Business Plan Competition.

And we’re not slowing down… another 140 men have been recruited for Class 19 that begins in January, 2013!

In celebration of this growth, the Prison Entrepreneurship Program’s Board of Directors and Advisory Boards have collectively committed a challenge grant of $40,000 to PEP . . . meaning that every dollar that you pledge/donate between now and December 31, 2012 will be matched!

But we need your help to raise the $40,000 match.

To donate online today, please visit: http://pep.org/donate/

To donate by mail, please make your check payable to PEP and mail to:

Prison Entrepreneurship Program
Attn: Donation
P.O. Box 926274
Houston, TX 77292-6274

If you would like to make a pledge payable in 2013, please contact PEP’s Chief Development Officer, Jeremy Gregg, at JGregg@PEP.org or (214) 727 – 9829.

Thank you for supporting PEP!

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!