Posts Tagged ‘prison testimonial’

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

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“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.”

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.

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.