Posts Tagged ‘Volunteer’

Notes for Michael G

Notecards sent to this volunteer

The following was posted this morning by one of our volunteer executives, Michael J. Gilbert (founder of Street Level Apps):

I sit here this morning with tears in my eyes, humbled yet happy.

My normal routine is to gather my mail at the end of the day and read it first thing over breakfast. Normally I throw out the junk mail without even looking inside.

I opened a large envelope that seemed like junk mail, however this was hand addressed (note to marketers). Inside were thank you letters from students in the Prison Entrepreneur Program. These men are truly grateful that someone gives a damn, someone that took time out of their day not just to say ‘I care” but to guide them in the right direction; in life and business.

Some time ago I volunteered to help edit business plans and attend “Sales Pitch Day”, inside the prison at the Cleveland Correctional Center north of Houston., Texas.

It’s humbling to see the transformation of a man, especially one so drastic. You take a man and especially young men that have done nothing but spend their lives in and out of jails and prisons, that have never had any opportunities in his life, no guidance or a mentor and put him in the right situation, offer him an opportunity to better himself along with guidance and the real man emerges. It reminds me of Eddie Murphy in “Changing Places”.

“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.

I think all too often we become so immersed in our own lives we fail to realize there are people hurting but wanting help but we step right over them in our pursuit of own goals and aspirations.

The fact is, I thought I was the one that was going to ‘go down and teach these boys a thing or two.” What truly happen was my own transformation. I came home humbled and reminded that we are all in this together. I was also reminded of the vision that started over 10 years ago and one that is coming to fruition as I write this. (Stay tuned).

I can tell you I will not lie on my death bed wishing I had worked one more hour, or made one more dollar, or closed one more deal. Although I do love what I do I also will not lie on that bed with regrets. The second half of my life is dedicated to helping those that need our help the most. (Read Bob Buford’s “Half Time: From Success to Significance”)

Won’t you join me? Become a volunteer Or join another charity that benefits society as a whole. Get involved in the lives of others and your own problems will soon disappear. When we focus on others, that’s where true joy and happiness is found.

During PEP’s Business Plan Competition these inmates pitch their business plans to more than 50 “free world” executives, entrepreneurs and MBA students who attend PEP’s in-prison events.

Over 9 years, over 1,000 men have graduated from PEP. Over 95% continue to be contributing citizens of society. That’s the complete opposite of the national average of recidivism. PEP continues to carry on a great program as Baylor University has now Certified the PEP Program.

Thank you to our volunteer Amanda for writing this great blog about her experience visiting PEP this past week:

Today I went to prison.

I have supported Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) for several years with small financial gifts and this year as an Executive Business Adviser. So, this year when planning my vacation to the U.S., I decided to make a stop in Houston. I wanted to see firsthand what they do and also participate in “Selling Night” where PEP participants gain valuable experience pitching and crafting their business plans.

Then, all of the sudden last night I began to think, “What the heck am I doing?” In Houston, going to a prison? And I was a little bit nervous.

The event today was amazing. I have rarely been so welcomed into a community of people eager to meet me and have what we refer to in the Dominican as anintercambio – the meeting of two or more people on level ground to learn from and serve each other.

The men in the PEP are near release and have undergone an intensive interview process to be able to participate in a challenging-MBA like program. I had read the literature, but still was not prepared for how well spoken, genuine, and eager to work hard they would be.

The biggest take away for me today was: we are all the same. As the men pitched to me they were nervous. As I got ready this morning I was nervous. They have made some mistakes and the good Lord knows just how many of those I have made too. I saw myself in them. I have been given many second chances and good gifts I did not deserve. I want to be a facilitator of those same things to them too.

Several Executive Volunteers stood up and addressed the men and told them they came to this event and to serve them because the men are worthy. So true.

PEP in INC magazineJay Steinfeld is the founder and CEO of, the industry leader in online window covering sales, representing over half of window treatments sold online and doing more than $80 million in sales annually. 

Jay is also one of PEP’s executive volunteers, and he recently published an article about his experiences with PEP in INC Magazine. Read the article below — and please share!

Going to Prison Made Me a Better CEO

RKI letter from Tom Rawson.pngEvery year, thousands of people hear about PEP for the first time. Many are intrigued by the story, but are understandable hesitant about how they can get involved — after all, most of us spend more time trying to stay OUT of prison than finding a way to get in!

Here is a great letter from long-time PEP volunteer, donor and friend Tom Rawson. Tom is the CEO of RKI, Inc and he offers this letter for people who are unsure about whether or not they want to come to prison:

To potential executive volunteers:

I am a regular volunteer at the Prison Entrepreneurship Program in Cleveland, Texas.

PEP is a unique program that finds men in the prison system who are totally committed to changing their lives for the better, and gives them the tools (partly through the use of volunteers as examples) that they need to be successful in their transformation. The men go through an intensive MBA type training, and design a business plan for themselves to deploy, when they get out of prison.

This program works.

Ask any staff member of PEP for the latest amazing statistics.

Why volunteer? I’m very busy running my own business, and I don’t need things to keep myself occupied, but I am a regular participant at PEP volunteer opportunities.

Accepting the challenging to interact with these guys as they pull themselves up, and begin to build a positive future for themselves and their families, is a very highly stimulating and uplifting experience. It is one of the few things in life that you really do have to participate in to understand.

PEP changes lives for the better, both for the volunteers, and for the men participating. I urge you to treat yourself to an amazing experience, and at the same time help someone to have a chance to make themselves a peaceful and meaningful life.

I have never met anyone who wished that they hadn’t participated.


Tom Rawson
RKI, Inc

Sign up now to be part of the upcoming Class 16 Venture Capital Panel event.  The event will take place this Friday, August 26th from 12pm to 5pm in the Cleveland Correctional Facility.  

Venture Capital Panel combines the excitement of a developing business strategy with your years of expertise.  Participants will pitch their business plans to a panel of Executives, who will help determine feasibility, marketability, and the overall strength of the scheme.  Prepared to be impressed by the creativity and ingenuity of our Class 16 participants.  This will be the most exciting Venture Capital Panel yet!  Email David Joekel (  for more information, or click here to sign up! (We will have a bus leaving from Dallas on Friday morning for anyone who would like a ride to Cleveland.)  Visit to find out more about all of our in-prison events!