Catherine Rohr, founder of the Houston-based Prison Entrepreneurship Program, has resigned as chief executive of the nonprofit. She has also been banned from Texas prisons and from working with parolees after divulging that she had inappropriate relationships with PEP graduates.
Since founding PEP in 2004, Rohr, 32, is credited with building a statewide prison organization that has graduated 500 felons from a five-month program about how to start businesses and be gainfully employed.
She and PEP were featured in a Cheryl Hall column on Oct. 4. The organization has an office in Dallas.
In a letter e-mailed Tuesday night to 7,500 supporters, Rohr said she sought "emotional comfort" from several released PEP graduates after her divorce in December. She said she decided to publicly disclose her improprieties so PEP could move forward.
"Although these mistakes were not illegal, I was recently banned by the Texas prison system from re-entering prison and volunteering with released men on parole supervision," she wrote.
In an interview Wednesday, Bill Meyer, chairman of PEP and chief financial officer of San Jose, Calif.-based Bell Micro Inc., said Rohr disclosed her inappropriate relationships to the PEP board a month ago. He said the board learned of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice decision to ban her from future prison work last week.
This is terrible news and a tremendous blow. PEP is Rohr's brainchild and a product of her energetic, charismatic leadership. The group could perhaps continue without her (though a major donor says he'll only give if she continues to be involved), but by all accounts she's been the lifeblood of the program and its primary fundraiser.
I don't know Catherine but I've heard her speak a few times and she's a force of nature, someone with a rare combination of vision and skills. I also don't know the details of her transgressions, but assuming it's true she violated no laws, I hope there's some way Rohr's status with the group and with TDCJ can sooner or later be rehabilitated. I'd like to see TDCJ building on PEP's successes, not contributing to its demise.