Prison Entrepreneurship Program

Prison Entrepreneurship Program

According to the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) one out of 100 Americans is in jail or prison with a total population of 2.3 million incarcerated people. Wow! Those are huge numbers!

Life in prison creates a cycle  – commit a crime, go to prison, get released, commit a crime, go back to prison. This cycle only helps to perpetuate crime and is extremely costly to society as well.

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program looks as prisoners as an interesting business model  of entrepreneurs. Prisoners are often drug-dealers, hustlers and gang members and there is a type of entrepreneurial spirit involved with this type of crime. What the Prison Entrepreneurship Program proposes, is to tap this business potential and turn it into legitimate business enterprises, leveraging their proven entrepreneurial skill-sets to inspire an even deeper change. 

We believe empowering inmates to strive for total life transformation is the only answer for the problem of recidivism—it is the only answer period.”

We accomplish this mission by linking top business and academic talent with program participants through an MBA-level curriculum, mentor relationships and straight-up entrepreneurial passion.

Part of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program is the reprogramming aspect. According to PEP, in order to incite lasting change, a holistic approach to self-transformation is essential. Included in the reprogramming process, staff of PEP teach rigorous business skills, life skills such as moral decision making, the importance of spiritual discipline, how to treat fellow workers and what a solid employer is looking for in hiring a potential employee.

Another aspect of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program is creating a fraternity or brotherhood of cooperation. PEP emphasizes the importance of working together to achieve a common positive goal. The group helps to push each other to achieve and they support each other during times of struggle. Often, these bonds are lifetime.

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program was established in 2004 and is currently a 501© nonprofit organization based out of Houston, Texas. The program is made up of volunteers, ex-offenders, pastors, MBAs and executives who have a strong vision to help change prison education policies.

To become accepted into the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, one must submit an application for the Business Plan Competition. PEP searches throughout all of the prisons throughout Texas to handpick men with “transformed hearts, impeccable work ethics and entrepreneurial potential.

Applicants endure an intense application process; then the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) transfers the eligible, pre-release men to the Cleveland Correctional Facility in Cleveland Texas, where PEP operates.

The soon to be released prisoners then undergo a rigourous four-to-five month program that includes business plan advising, constructing pro-forma income statements, profit margins, taking over 40 business exams and they must pitch their business concept over 200 times to top level business executives.

For their final exam, participants deliver 30-minute oral business plan presentations to a judging panel of CEOs and venture capitalists from across the nation. The graduation ceremony tops off the Business Plan Competition event as everyone celebrates, and for the majority of the class, this is their first commencement ceremony ever.

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program encourages family traditions, love, hard work and dedication to becoming a business entrepeneur.

To find out more how you can help with this innovative and successful prison education program, please read more here.

“PEP has taken a chance on the unlovable, the murderer, the gang leader, and the drug dealer and witnessed miraculous metamorphosis; proof positive that punishment does not deter crime. But rebuilding the human spirit not only deters crime; it also enhances society as a whole.”

Additional Program Information
Name: Prison Entrepreneurship Program

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Associated Educational Institution: None
Associated Prison: Cleveland Correctional Facility
Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 926274
Houston, TX 77292-6274
Phone Number: Not Public
Fax Number: Not Public
Email Address: [email protected]
Point of Contact:
Social Media:

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  • ·         Google+: None
  • ·         Other: (Blog)

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program – For Creating Leaders
In 2004, Wall Street Insider Catherine Rohr toured a local prison and found that many of those behind bars had the qualities of a great industry leader. They were familiar with marketing, accounting, competition, sales, planning – their crimes often correlated directly with the qualities of difference makers in business, simply without the opportunities to utilize those skills productively.
Since its inception the program has continued to grow, and is now one of the most successful prison education programs in the United States in terms of graduate outcomes.
Data on the Prison Entrepreneurship Program

  • ·         7% recidivism rates among graduates.
  • ·         800+ graduates since 2004.
  • ·         73% employment within 30 days of release.
  • ·         100% employment within 90 days of release.
  • ·         100% funding from private donors. 33% of funding from graduates.
  • ·         Estimated 340% ROI from donations.
  • ·         Average starting wage upon graduation, $11 per hour (minimum wage in Texas $7.25)

Notable Classes and Professors
At the moment, the PEP program is run by business professionals and is not affiliated with any educational institution. The CEO of PEP, Bert Smith, also serves as one of the leading educators. The program is run and operated by entrepreneurs and business owners because it is not a college program, but rather a training program for inmates that show signs of becoming contributors.
Classes include textbooks such as:

  • ·         “Entrepreneurship: A Small Business Approach” by Charles Bamford
  • ·         “Entrepreneurship – How to Start and Operate a Small Business” by Steve Mariotti

Students also go through a curriculum known as “FastTrac” and receive individualized instruction from many local business leaders in the Texas area. Within the prison, the Prison Education Program has its own library and access several tools to improve education and outcome.
Notable Information on the Prison Education Program
The program does not currently serve any women’s prisons due to the disproportionate number of male prisoners in Texas (currently at nearly 10 to 1). The program boasts at least 2 millionaires and over 120 small business owners on record. In 2012 alone, the program had over 80 graduates.
The program made national headlines when its founder was caught up in a scandal involving relationships with local prisoners. But after her resignation, the program continued to grow and receive a healthy amount of funding, and has since been able to recover from the negative press and expand its services.
What makes PEP a powerful choice for prisons is that its services do not end after the student has graduated. After the inmate has been released from prison, PEP supplies housing, professional clothing, healthcare, access to available job opportunities, and much more. They are provided a care package with “basic necessities” that include hair gel, combs, toothbrushes, shampoo, and other essentials, and receive assistance with parole counselling and family reunification.
They are also provided access to additional education upon release, through an online school associated with the University of Houston. They can receive mentoring from some local executives and possibly even financing to start a business if they can show investors that they are trained and ready to run a profitable company.
Overall, the program has been a resounding success, and continues to grow each year. While the admissions process is difficult, those that manage to enroll in the program are likely to have more success than the rest of the prison population.
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