It is amazing what one charismatic person with a good idea and passion for that idea can do. Catherine Rohr is that person and the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) is that good idea. Rohr, a former Wall Street venture capitalist, was transformed after she accepted an invitation to visit a Texas prison and founded the PEP program to tap the entrepreneurial spirit and skills of inmates to begin the path to success and fulfillment. PEP is a rigorous voluntary business and life skills development curriculum focused on entrepreneurism as a way out and up for prisoners within one year of release. The program is application-based and only 20 percent of those who apply are admitted to the program. Out of those 20 percent, only 60 percent graduate from the program.
This is no time-filling program run by do-gooders with hearts of gold. This is a serious, intensive immersion into the world of business and legal success, supported by private dollars, prominent institutions of higher education, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and a cadre of volunteer executive mentors that Donald Trump would envy. Rohr has established a no-nonsense organization that values quality and accountability equally with the worth and potential of every human. Most of the graduates of the program, upon release, start a business or get significant jobs that help them support themselves and their families. The kind of business success the program is having would be a story monumental enough, but wait! There’s more! PEP has transformed the graduates into contributing, contrite, and caring citizens ready to lead industry and communities. Sporting a recidivism rate in the single digits for its brief (four year) history, PEP has created a brotherhood among the graduates that is making communities safer and the individuals more productive.
The businesses the former inmates have founded range from leather goods production to hedge funds to record labels.
The program doesn’t stop on the prisoner’s release date. The reentry and reintegration is fostered by the program’s ongoing menu of services that includes a reentry care package, transitional housing, family services, recreation, mentoring, financing, and business development support. Read about PEP, its founder, and the planet’s largest FAQ at http://www.prisonentrepreneurship.org/ and see Catherine Rohr summarize the program in this brief You Tube video.
Caution: This program is currently operating only in Texas and there are no immediate plans for expansion outside that state. PEP is striving to increase the quality of its effort and results there for the 60,000 people released from Texas prisons each year.