Posts Tagged ‘rethink prison’

The following was written by PEP Class 20 graduate, Jose M. 


PEP Graduate Jose M.

PEP Graduate, Jose M.

Because of PEP and the Ten Driving Values, I am a new man.

As a teenager and a young man, I was a very lost individual. How I became the person I am today is largely due to the program and the tools given to me while incarcerated, to apply to my life on the inside and once released. I started off as a troubled person with no respect or values, but now I have a plan, and I have respect for society and others.

I initially thought PEP was a business program, but eventually I learned it was much more than that. I was skeptical at first, but like others, I began asking questions around the unit about the program. I heard that it was family-oriented and heavily involved in repairing broken homes. I latched onto it for that reason because I love my family very much and was tired of hurting them.

While in class, I learned business skills, which was great. But most importantly, I learned how to identify my character flaws in the Effective Leadership training and through a number of character assessments from my peers. I also learned that I had talents and that I actually had something to contribute to the world. We were given etiquette lessons that taught me how to conduct myself in a number of circumstances. Once released, I was also given the opportunity to continue learning in our eSchool classes. Upon completion, I was given the status of alumni, and in September of this year, I will receive my second diploma from PEP.

We have been given so much by PEP to guarantee our success in the real world. I have been gainfully employed since within a few days after my release, and I am now enrolling into courses to finally complete my college degree. I am closer to my family than I have ever been, and my whole thinking process has improved greatly. I owe so much to PEP. Thank you for opening my eyes and restoring confidence in myself. I know that as long as I work hard and remain positive, I will be successful.

I continue to participate and involve myself when I can to give back. I and others see that I’m a changed individual, and for that, I want to thank everyone involved in the program. It has been a life-changing experience.

Jose M.
Class 20

The following was written by MBA student and executive volunteer, Michael Collins, about his first experience inside prison and how it pushed him outside his comfort zone.


About two years ago I was introduced to the Prison Entrepreneurship Program by my father, who swore to me that my experience with PEP would change my life. He couldn’t have said a truer statement.

The purpose of this organization is to help those who are incarcerated create jobs for themselves once they are released from prison. This is especially important, as most men find it extremely difficult to find employment after transitioning back into society. As a result of this hardship, over half return to prison. To combat this problem, the PEP program equips men with entrepreneurial tools to start their own businesses once released. Similar to the television show, “Shark Tank,” executive volunteers, ranging from CEO’s of globally recognizable companies to graduate students, critique the mens’ business plans and pitches in a competitive setting at the culmination of the program.

Growing up in a white, privileged family, I didn’t have much exposure to individuals who had committed crimes or gone to prison. It was a side of the world which I had really been sheltered from, so as I walked into the facility for the first time, my heart began to beat faster and faster in anticipation. Despite my expectation of being treated like a law-abiding civilian, I was abruptly awakened by the serious tone and treatment by the guards as we were pat-searched and ordered to go through a metal detector.

The other executive volunteers and I then walked down a hallway and into a room, where we were welcomed by the men participating in the program, all cheering and celebrating our presence. After we all got settled, the CEO of PEP began to talk about the program and the agenda for the day. We began with some getting-to-know-you exercises, along with some “surprises” to really get us out of our comfort zones, which were instrumental in breaking down the apprehension I knew existed amongst some of the volunteers in attendance. By the end of this segment, I began to not only see the appreciation the guys had for us being there, but I could also feel the gratitude. It was at this moment I knew this experience was already changing my life.

For the next five hours I spent time meeting with about twenty different inmates one-on-one to hear their business plans and provide feedback. This part of my experience in prison was extremely powerful, as my very distinct perception of inmates changed so drastically. The hours flew by, and I felt like I wasn’t in a prison anymore at all. The men I spoke with were some of the most articulate and personable people I’d ever met, and by the end of the day, it felt like I had just spent my time catching up with old friends. Then, the volunteers were asked to step aside, and the inmates were ordered to file into lines for a count: an eye-opening reality check that I’ll never forget. The atmosphere did a complete 180, and the room went from being a warm social setting with friends, to a cold and harsh prison almost instantly. The men I had just became friends with, and laughed with, were now being treated like rabid animals.

As I drove home from the prison, I struggled mentally to comprehend everything that had occurred while I was there. About a day or two later, I finally understood what all the volunteers had talked about; I could feel how I had changed. All my perspectives and preconceived notions about prisoners had been erased, as the passion and effort I saw from those men rivaled those of famous entrepreneurs.

My experience in prison not only changed my life, but it taught me a lot. I learned that uncomfortable situations are only as stressful as you make them out to be, and that no matter where two people come from, there’s always something you can find you have in common. Since that day I first stepped into that prison, I have been back three times, each less stressful and more enjoyable than the last. But no trip back will ever match my first experience inside those walls, a memory I will always hold dear to my heart.

Mike Collins


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PEP is 100% privately funded.  We rely on the generosity of hundreds of individual donors, grant-making foundations, and corporate sponsors to deliver our life-changing mission. And thanks to a recent study from Baylor University, we know that every dollar that these donors give to PEP generates at least a $3.40 return on investment to our community.

PEP is now embarking on an ambitious new plan to dramatically expand our impact. As we announced here, PEP recently launched our in-prison operations within a second prison in Texas. Our goal is to continue to scale our work in our home state until we can reach at least 10% of all of the inmates released from Texas prisons each year.

Today, we are proud to announce that the Scurlock Foundation has awarded PEP a remarkable FIVE-YEAR grant to support this expansion!

As Billy Wareing, a board member for the Scurlock Foundation, states:

“The Scurlock Foundation is honored to partner with PEP in their transformative work to end the cycle of recidivism in Texas prisons and bring hope to inmates who have lost heart.  The work that PEP does is redemptive in nature and we believe that God is working through PEP to restore families, bring hope through employment opportunities and ultimately restore all things through His son, Jesus.”

Please join us in thanking the Scurlock Foundation for their tremendous investment in our future!

To support PEP when you shop at Amazon, click here. http://smile.amazon.com/ch/20-1384253

To support PEP when you shop at Amazon, click here.

Great news!

When you shop at Amazon Smile, Amazon will make a donation to the Prison Entrepreneurship Program. Just click here to register, and when you login to Amazon your account will connect to PEP!

http://smile.amazon.com/ch/20-1384253

It is:

  1. Free!
  2. Easy!
  3. AWESOME!

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 Tim Tucker, Message South Africa National Director for The Message Trust. You can learn more about this organization on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Tim Tucker South Africa Message Trust

Tim Tucker, from South Africa’s “The Message Trust”

PEP Pitch Day, Friday 14th November 2014.

Cape Town to Amsterdam. Amsterdam to Atlanta. Atlanta to Dallas. Dallas to Houston and Houston to Cleveland Correctional Center. It was a long trip. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Yes. Definitely. Without a doubt.

My organisation (www.message.org.za) runs programs for juvenile offenders in Cape Town, South Africa. This “pilgrimage” to Texas was to learn from PEP as we seek to deliver a similar programme in Cape Town’s prisons. Notorious for gangsterism, drug dealing and violent crime, we are constantly seeking to improve our interventions in Cape Town’s prisons in order to provide a greater opportunity for ex-offenders to be reintegrated into society. My exposure to PEP’s model greatly inspired and impacted me.

What I experienced was a wonderful blend of the PEP brotherhood, an extremely effective program, and the added dimension of an incredible spirit of determined and deliberate fun, that is a powerful recipe for rehabilitation. From the moment I was greeted by the most moving “guard of honor” I’ve ever experienced (loud music, cheering, and high-fiving the PEP participants), I recognised that PEP has developed something special. As Bert danced to the front to introduce the day, I realised that my British reserve needed to be shelved if I was going to maximise my experience. And from that moment on I was completely absorbed in all that took place.

But I was soon to learn that PEP is not just about feel-good motivational music, dancing, clapping, high-fiving and hoorah’s! We were split up into our various groups to listen to the pitches that the participants had prepared after five months of hard work. The first candidate began his presentation. His concept was well thought through and he presented in an articulate and compelling way. The executive next to me, John-  an experienced PEP business mentor – nudged me and whispered, “that will be one of the best two or three presentations today.” Boy was he wrong! After the next presentation he nudged me again… “wow” he said, “that will also be up there.” After the third equally high calibre presentation he was realising that he would need to eat his words! It was humbling and inspiring to listen to pitch after pitch that had been well thought through and matched the passion and gifting of each participant – together with some great innovative ideas. Scoring them was tough – particularly as, following John’s input, I gave the first participant extremely high marks…

As we gathered once more with the big group, it was evident that each executive had been greatly impacted and impressed. What was also evident is that I wasn’t going to escape from prison without the initiation of dancing… as all us “newbies” were summoned to dance forward. But it was a great privilege to be handed the microphone to share with everyone that the lessons learned on that day were going to make a tangible difference in South African prisons – although I know that South African dancing will eclipse the Texan two-step!

— Tim Tucker (Message Trust)

The following was written by PEP volunteer, Jessica Middleton. Jessica is a Criminologist and Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology.


jessica middleton

There were several elements of that day that really struck me.  First of all, the dancing…  I have always been a firm believer in the healing power of dance.  When I was trudging through the darkest phase of my own life, it was dance that kept my spirit alive – salsa dancing in particular, but regardless of the method of dance, it is a healthy and accepted vessel for expression and release.  It puts a smile on your face and doesn’t ask for anything in return other than the pure enjoyment of its recipients.

I first heard about the coined concept of “social distance reduction” from Dr. Everette B. Penn, Criminologist and Professor at University of Houston-Clear Lake.  Dr. Penn was not only my professor, but also my academic mentor, always throwing extra tasks and challenges my way, I believe, just to see what exactly I was made of.  The first day we met, before I even began the Criminology program, mind you, I’m still just a Business Leadership/Management graduate, he instructed me to a  to write an entry for the African American Encyclopedia of Criminal Justice on the topic of “crime prevention.”  I knew absolutely nothing about criminology or criminal justice, much less that there was a difference between the two, but I had already claimed to be a strong researcher, therefore it was time to sink or swim!

Believe it or not, my submission was accepted into the encyclopedia which was simply miraculous, and I guess my submission had enough legitimate information to be published – WOW!

Shortly thereafter, Dr. Penn donned me as Managing Editor of a special issue academic journal called Criminal Justice Studies: A Critical Journal of Crime, Law and Society, which was a pain, but Dr. Penn knew exactly what he was doing – giving me a REAL taste of  research, editing, and publication.  The ins and outs.  The peer reviews.  The rejections.  The unreturned voicemails and emails.  The absurdity of some of the so-called scholarly writing I had to drudge through.  He knew that again, I would decide to sink or swim.  I believe I swam…well, maybe doggie paddled.  Perhaps I just stayed afloat, who knows?  But the publication now rests in my library, so let’s get back to social distance…

So several UHCL scholars and innovators teamed up with community forces to create the Teen and Police Service Academy, also known as TAPS Academy.  The overarching goal of TAPS Academy is to reduce the social distance between teens and law enforcement.  Theoretically, this should subsequently reduce crime.  Since I’ve not attempted to get my hands on any data testing TAPS impact, I cannot speak to the effectiveness of this particular program, but I can with full conviction say there is something mysteriously powerful about this “reducing social distance” concept.

I say all of that to say…drumroll please…reducing social distance, whether PEP recognizes it or not, is the cornerstone of this program that makes it so different than others, and envied by all.  You can teach a man how to write a business plan until you’re blue in face, but give him a mentor, a genuine accountability partner and a dedicated teacher all wrapped into one, and now we’re talkin’!

There is real, live, living power when you bridge such a chasm.  Social distance murders more relationships than do actual felons, but PEP…PEP is the bridge that slowly dissolves this ugly, unnecessary social distance that only divides us.  There is something very interesting going on here in Cleveland…something very peculiar…something I have never seen before.  Dare I call it special?  I mean, this is the stuff criminologist DREAM about!  Where did this come from?  I feel guilty for not knowing about previously, when I genuinely thought I was somewhat savvy when it came to TDCJ programs based on my research, thesis, etc.

But PEP…was flying under the radar…they had to be or else I would have been made aware of this a long time ago, and it embarrasses me, as a Criminologist and CRIM/CJ Professor, that I was not aware of PEP.  It was flying right underneath my nose. I am still disappointed and heartbroken that it took 20 classes for me to become a complete heart, mind, body investor in PEP.   But hey, God works, and it’s typically mysterious when it comes to my understanding, so I have learned to just say, “Thank you for the time I have been given.”

I can only hope that you all, PEP participants present, past, and future, feel the same way.  Gratitude is a stronger force than you know.  And on that note, since I am only a Criminologist, I will then hand it over to the Coaches, etc., to do their thang’.  I love you all dearly.

Warm Regards,

Jessica E. Middleton, M.A. 

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

jose c

Click here to learn more and invest today!



Calling all PEP supporters!

Graduate Jose C. has been approved for a $5,000 loan for his painting business in Dallas. He now needs YOUR help to raise the loan capital. He will use the loan to purchase the equipment and bonding insurance necessary to fully re-launch the successful business that he owned before his incarceration.

This is loan (NOT a donation). You can invest as little as $5 and you will be paid back over two years through Kiva.

Will you invest at least $5 today?

Learn more here:
https://zip.kiva.org/loans/8690

And here is a note from Jose:

“A Premium starting out the day, preparing to lay wood flooring. I will keep you updated on our progress through out the day. I’m out here giving all I’ve got every day. To my PEP family , and friends take a look at the link above if you like the daily efforts .A Premium paint and remodeling is trying to reach a goal and a dream. Thank you!”

jose c job

Class 20 graduate Mark L., a.k.a. "Sweet Homey the Clown"!

Class 20 graduate Mark L., a.k.a. “Sweet Homey the Clown”!

We have a very special “welcome home” post today!

Mark L. has been in prison since 10/1/1994 … and was released today. 20 years, 1 month, 13 days later.

This Class 20 graduate was actually granted parole earlier, but he **declined** it and opted to stay in prison. Why?

Because Mark had been chosen as one of 10 servant leaders (prior PEP graduates) to transfer to a new prison to help us launch a new program near Dallas, Texas. Mark “had a job to do and wanted to see it through to the end.” Read more about this here; Mark is also pictured below.

Thanks to Mark’s servant leadership, around 40 other inmates recently completed this new program in PEP. And today … after 7,349 days behind bars … Mark is free at last.

Welcome home, “Sweet Homey the Clown”!

PEP Graduate Servant Leaders at Estes Unit

Pictured with the other servant leaders who followed this call to open a new program, Mark L. is on the front row, bottom right,

 

Read similar testimonials from other graduates here.