Raymond White, left, Class 17 graduate, and Agustin Sierra, Class 18 graduate, work in the prison library.
Potential participants must go through a three-month, 22-hour-a-week exercise in character development. Then comes a six-month, 40-hour-a-week college-level entrepreneurship course.
Once in the program, students must generate business plans and deliver the “pitches” to their peers dozens of times. Volunteer businesspeople judge the quality of the plans and offer suggestions for improvement.
In class and out, the students’ behavior constantly is watched. About 25 percent of each class drops out – or is severed – before graduation. Upon graduation, they receive a “certificate of entrepreneurship” from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business.
After release, graduates have the option of moving to transitional housing in Houston or Dallas, where they are helped in finding jobs, and continuing their business training in weekly entrepreneurship classes.
The program’s prison initiatives manager, Pat McGee, a murderer who rebuilt his life after graduating from the program and obtaining multiple degrees, said he tells the men they must accept responsibility for their crimes and forgive themselves.
Inmates in Cleveland are reminded of the 10 driving values of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, which also emphasizes accepting responsibility.
Three-quarters of the current class first were arrested before age 18, said Jeremy Gregg, PEP chief development officer. Forty percent have lost at least one close family member to violence; a third had a parent who had been incarcerated during their childhood; more than half have only a high school education or its equivalent. Most of the students have been to prison two or three times; half have committed violent offenses.<< previous 1 2 3 4 next >>