There's An Entrepreneur In Most of Us
One hundred thousand dollars in sales per week … 90% net margin … 90% repeat business … On an investment banking teaser, this company profile would have generated widespread interest among the investment community—had the core product not been crack cocaine. A large percentage of inmates come to prison as seasoned entrepreneurs, having run highly successful enterprises such as drug rings and gangs.
They know how to manage others to get things done. They are passionate, intelligent and willing to take risks. Even the most unsophisticated drug dealers inherently understand business concepts such as competition, profitability, risk management and the development of proprietary sales channels. What if these influential leaders ran legitimate companies.
So begins the blurb on a website of a truly amazing non-profit. Founded in 2004 in Harris County, Texas where more prisoners are released than any other county in the state, Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) took a look at the problem:
One out of 15 individuals will serve time in prison during his/her lifetime. U.S. taxpayers spent $60 billion on corrections in 2002—up from $9 billion two decades earlier—making corrections the second-fastest growing government spending category after healthcare. More than 600,000 prisoners are released each year, with two-thirds returning to the criminal justice system for violating the law within two to three years.
Inmates are released with only the clothes on their backs, up to $100 and one-way bus tickets to the cities where they were convicted of their crimes. Contributing to recidivism statistics is the fact that former prisoners are repeatedly rejected by employers, public housing facilities, families and even churches.
That's where this novel PEP program gets involved. It offers:
In-prison Business Plan Competition (BPC)
Reintegration Services, including: Re-entry Services; Work Readiness Program; Executive Mentoring Program; Entrepreneurship School; Access to Financing.
The results have been incredible:
Worked with more than 250 inmates in two prisons; currently conducting sixth BPC, in which inmates create comprehensive business plans and present concepts to judging panels of nationwide executives. BPCs culminate in formal cap-and-gown graduation ceremonies.
Recruited more than 200 top-level business executives to participate in more than 20 prison events that had never before taken place behind bars, including venture capital panels.
Established partnerships with MBA programs at Harvard, Stanford, Cal-Berkeley, University of Texas at Austin, Rice University, the University of Dallas and Texas A&M Universities to provide weekly volunteer business plan advisory services for inmates.
Assisted two inmates in filing provisional patent applications with U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Maintain participant employment rate north of 93%, typically within one month of release.
Launched Entrepreneurship Schools in Dallas and Houston, and recruited more than 60 instructors, ranging from public company CEOs to venture capitalists.
Recruited and trained 60+ Executive Mentors, consistently maintaining a waiting list of executives desiring to coach participants.
Assisted 32 participants in the launch/operation of entrepreneurial businesses in industries including power washing, computer services, landscaping, catering and automotive repair.
Maintained a participant recidivism rate of less than 3%
With the cost of incarcerating a prisoner running $45,000 per year, this program makes so much sense. Congratulations to founder Catherine Rohr. You can listen to her story and also to several of her students here courtesy of Aflac.
Let's spread this amazing program nationwide. And let's start with California where in 5 years, if current spending rates continue, we will spend more on incarcerating inmates than educating college students. Something is terribly wrong with that statistic.
The Sacramento Executive