From Convict To CEO -- Turning Inmates Into Business Leaders
Play • 43 min

Many U.S. prisons are trade schools for crime. High recidivism rates underscore the failure of the current criminal justice system.

Released and rearrested inmates pass through an expensive revolving door. 

The Texas prison used to be called the Texas Department of Corrections (TDC), but there was little evidence it was correcting bad behavior. 

In Texas, nearly one-fourth of the prisoners released return within three years. Nationally, half of the prisoners released return within three years.

But the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), an independent nonprofit organization in Texas, puts inmates who are within one to three years of parole eligibility on the path to jobs and even running a business.  Less than 7% of its graduates return to prison within three years.

500 participants are chosen yearly out of more than 10,000 eligible inmates. The screening process, which is more selective than prestigious universities, includes a 20-page application, three exams, and an interview with PEP staff members.

Death row inmates or those convicted of sex crimes are not eligible.

The program exposes them to PEP’s ten driving values: fresh-start outlook, servant-leader mentality, love, innovation, accountability, integrity, execution, fun, excellence, and wise stewardship. 

The entrepreneurship program starts with a three-month Leadership Academy that teaches character development and computer skills. 

Next, they take a rigorous six-month “mini-MBA” course taught by staff, volunteer business executives, and college students.

Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business has been working with PEP since 2007. It awards certificates of Entrepreneurship at the program’s graduation ceremonies.

All of the inmates who have graduated get a job within 90-days of walking out of prison. 300 businesses have been launched by more than 1,500 PEP graduates.  Six of those companies generate more than $1 million in annual sales.  Nearly half of the grads own homes within three years of their release.

Bryan Kelley, the CEO of PEP, has himself “walked the line” in the prison system. Kelley served 22 years of a life sentence for a drug-related murder. (*note: In this context "walk the line" refers to the white lines painted on the floors of prison cellblocks. Inmates must stay inside the white line and against the wall, as they walk in both directions.)

Investigative reporter Robert Riggs spent a decade in every corner of the prison system exposing corruption in the Texas parole system.

Riggs interviews Kelley about the life-changing Prison Entrepreneurship Program.


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