Monday, August 11, 2008

Christian activist encouraging re-entry success through Prison Entrepreneurship Program

My brother, who is a Baptist pastor in Shreveport, emailed over the weekend to tell me how impressed he was with Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) founder Catherine Rohr, whom he'd heard speaking at a Christian leadership conference in Illinois. The Texas-based nonprofit trains convicts to become entrepreneurs when they re-enter the free world, posting astonishingly positive success rates. So I was pleased to see the Christian Post providing coverage of her talk ("From Wall Street to Prison," Aug. 10):

“When I got to the prison, I saw human beings,” Rohr said during an interview broadcasted at The Leadership Summit in South Barrington, Ill., on Friday. “I was so inspired by their potential.”

After seeing what was going on there, Rohr began flying back and forth between New York and Texas to teach business classes at the prison, but she realized it wasn’t enough.

“I felt like I had to do more – to build a solution that left them with no excuse to fail after they got out,” she recalled.

According to statistics, 1 out of 15 Americans go to prison at least once in their lifetime, and over 50 percent of released prisoners get right back into prison within three years. Rohr admitted that, at first, she thought perhaps the problems lied within the criminals themselves.

“Then I started to realize that maybe society has to contribute to this problem,” said Rohr. “These men are released from the prison with $100 … and all they know is their old gang homeboys. And they try getting a job and at the very top of the application is the felony check box.”

Rohr argued that society’s attitude toward them contributes to the problem. And she realized that teaching classes on a monthly basis would only get the inmates’ hopes high but could not provide practical help after they were released from the prison.

This led Rohr to establish the Prisoner Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), a one-of-a-kind program that turns formal criminals into legit business men.

And so far, the results of her program have been astonishing. PEP graduates have a 98 percent employment rate and a less-than-5 percent return-to-prison rate. People who have been convicted for deadly crimes are now in the business world, serving the society.

“But one of the statistics that I’m most proud of is that these guys have been takers,” the 30-year-old PEP CEO continued. “Now 70 percent of our graduates are donors back to PEP.” ...

Regarding the future of the program, Rohr said she hasn’t considered expanding PEP just yet. But she hoped to find leaders to come to Houston, where PEP is currently based, to be trained and open similar program at different locations.

Over the last four years, PEP had 380 people graduate from the program. Some of the graduates – one of them just released four hours before the interview – were present at some of the locations where the Leadership Summit was broadcast live to share their brief testimonies about how God has turned their life around and how they are living the new lives that God has given them.

Rohr concluded her interview by urging leaders to remember their callings.

“Here at the conference, we say [words] like ‘I’m going to give you my everything, Jesus.’ How come that doesn’t happen more often?” she posed.

If Rohr had not followed God’s will, she said she would probably be in New York making some 100 million dollar deals.

“And how lame would that be compared to what I do now?” she asked.


Anonymous said...

Ms Rohr visited TYC Giddings State School in May 2008 and was equally impressed with the potential and motivation of TYC students. She and a dozen PEP adult graduates returned to Giddings on July 1 to give a special PEP rally to more than 70 students. PEP compliments the "job ready" and vocational classes that are regularly offered at Giddings. We'll be meeting again to discuss the possibility of an ongoing PEP program in TYC.

A Wier/ Giddings State School

Anonymous said...

It is important to note that there are more qualified applicants for the PEP program than spaces avaialble. This successful program should definately be expanded.

Another important aspect of this Program is that they teach computer skills. It is criminal that the State of Texas refuses to teach computer skills in this day and age. Even a McJob requires the use of a complex computerized point of sale cash register.

The goal of low recidivism is deeply undercut by the refusal of TDCJ to provide this important employment skill for parolees and inmates released after completing their time.

Anonymous said...

[...] trains convicts to become entrepreneurs when they re-enter the free world

Advice for convict entrepreneurs:
1. Buy in bulk and always bring your own scale.
2. Don't get high off your own supply.
3. Never trust a junkie.

Anonymous said...

to anon at 02:26...shame on you for your comment! you might have just been trying to be funny, but there's a lot of ex-cons out here struggling to make it. your sorry attitude, as reflected by your snide comment, is an example of what keeps a lot of ex-cons down. a lot of ex-cons got more guts than people like you. they show it every day by being successful despite the big black x on their back. sure, they failed in the past but why should that hinder them in the present once they've paid their debt to society? don't forget, most of these folks who are locked up eventually get out, and are likely to be your neighbor! sign me.....a SUCCESSFUL ex-con, not a bozo like you.

Anonymous said...

The vast majority of prisoners will be released.

The State of Texas can do things to minimize the chance they will commit another crime and be sent back to prison.

The only reason Texas doesn't do anything to help releasees is that Texas has a vested interest in keeping the prison's full.

Pretty sad. Even sadder when folks lucky enough to avoid getting cought for their crimes feel "holier than thou".

Anon at 2:26 is an arrogant fool!

Anonymous said...

PEP is an excellent program. Guess who gave then the full shake down earlier this year. Senator John Whitmire. That's right.

Anonymous said...

Anon you are part of the problem. The time spent in prision as a long term affect on the lives of the people released and yes, they are right, the box on the top checked felon, will immediately kick them out of a position, no matter how much training and education they received while locked up. I'd love to see this program in place in the entire judicial system and I like many other parents would probably be tireless workers doing all we can to help this along. The fact of the matter is if they don't own their own business whsat the heck elese are they going to do. They should can't get jobs, even the government is slow with letting them vote, pay fo college classes and don't even get me started on the ones that are on the stupid monitoring system.

I say BRAVO, and where do I volunteer.