Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP)
John had always been a talented salesman, but his addiction
destroyed his marriage and landed him in prison. He lost everything
and became estranged from his family. His ex-wife refused to let
him speak with his children. He knew he had to make changes in his
life, and discovered the Prison Entrepreneurship Program.
The Prison Entrepreneurship Program, also known as PEP, began in
2004 when a former Wall Street professional toured a prison and
noticed that executives and inmates had more in common than most
would think. Even the most unsophisticated drug dealers know how to
manage others to get things done and inherently understand business
concepts such as competition, profitability, risk management and
proprietary sales channels. PEP wondered what would happen if
inmates who were committed to their own transformation were
equipped to start and run legitimate companies.
PEP pursues a mission to transform inmates and executives by
unlocking human potential through entrepreneurial passion,
education and mentoring.
Today, the program works intensively with over 300 participants
while in prison and 200 during re-entry as they transition to the
free world; PEP also serves over 400 family members each year.
While in prison, PEP participants begin with the application
process for the Business Plan Competition. They recruit
participants statewide through the 60+ prisons in the Texas
Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) network. Applicants who are
accepted after an application process are then transferred by TDCJ
to the Cleveland Correctional Facility, where PEP operates.
There, participants go through a five-month program where staff
teach a "mini-MBA" curriculum, executive volunteers partake in
prison events and entrepreneurs, business people and MBA students
provide feedback on business plans through the Business Plan
For the 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, bringing together participants,
mentors and family members to celebrate.
In addition to the support for participants, PEP's family program
connects, informs, encourages and provides hope to family and
friends of those enrolled in PEP. This connection to family and
friends not only helps participants stick with the program while
they are locked up, but it also helps smooth their transition back
into the community. Reintegration support is key to their success
as studies show that former inmates are most vulnerable and
impressionable within the first 72 hours following release. PEP
offers a structured environment of accountability, including:
- Professional clothing for interviews
- Medical, dental and optical care
- Family reunification services
- Community, fellowship and social activities
- Job opportunities
- Assistance with obtaining identification (e.g., driver's
- Parole mediation
- Church connections, if desired
Once participants are out in the free world, PEP helps them find
jobs. For those ready to launch their businesses, PEP continues to
provide entrepreneurship assistance through its Entrepreneurship
School, continued executive mentoring and, in some cases, start-up
PEP's results include a 3-year return-to-prison rate as low as
<5% (compared to the national rate of 50%), an employment rate
of 100% within 90 days and over 125 businesses launched to date. At
least two of these businesses are now generating over $1 million in
Since 2011, Rockwell Fund has granted $200,000 to PEP, most
recently with a multi-year grant to sustain current operations, as
PEP works to launch a series of for‐profit ventures that can grow
to provide the majority of its budget over the next few years. PEP
recently announced that its for-profit subsidiary, Communitas Auto
Group, is now the exclusive Master Franchisee of Auto-Lab Complete
Car Care Centers for the State of Texas. This move will result in
double mission-related benefits of:
- providing long‐term sustainability for PEP through generated
- employing PEP graduates while accelerating the growth of
Bert Smith, PEP CEO states, "Thanks to the visionary grantmaking
of institutions like Rockwell Fund, we are building a model of
sustainable expansion for PEP. We are not just building an
organization; we are building a revolution that will transform the
PEP's work is aligned with Rockwell Fund's workforce development
grantmaking strategy in two ways:
- By offering specialized job training and a strong track record
of job placement success for participants, PEP's programs offer
customized training and coaching for clients with multiple
barriers, providing supportive relationships with clients over a
period of time.
- By helping to create new jobs by providing entrepreneurship
training and support services to help PEP graduates launch small
businesses, some of which are positioned to not only employ that
graduate, but future program graduates as well.
The Prison Entrepreneurship Program changes the lives of people
like John every day. He graduated from PEP's Class 19 and earned
his Certificate in Entrepreneurship from Baylor University in June
"More importantly, PEP helped me to finally realize that I had a
greater purpose," John relays. "PEP taught me to work on proving
that I was a changed man through my actions. And, thanks to an
introduction from a PEP donor, I recently landed a job as the first
felon ever hired by one of the largest car dealerships in Dallas.
They said they would take a risk on me because of PEP."
In his third month on the job, John was named the Salesman of
the Month, and during his 90-day review, he was awarded a salary
increase of more than $1,000 per month. His manager even called the
PEP donor who nominated him to ask if there were any other
ex-felons they could hire.
"But most importantly," says John, "my ex-wife has finally
allowed me to speak with our children again. My little girl asks to
speak to her Daddy on the phone every night before she falls
asleep. And, I'll soon be flying out to see them for the first time
For more information, please visit PEP's website.
PEP helped John go from ex-felon to
"Salesman of the Month".