Many of the more than two million people in U.S. prisons face bleak prospects when their sentences end. Employers are often reluctant to hire former prisoners and many people in society shun them. But a former venture capital investment consultant named Catherine Rohr has given some prisoners in Texas a unique opportunity to rebuild their lives through an entrepreneurship training program she operates in prison.
Catherine Rohr has given these prisoners a chance to start a new life.
In the past five years, 450 men have graduated from the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP).
Catherine Rohr founded the privately-funded training program in a Texas prison because, she says, all that many of the prisoners needed was a chance.
"When I arrived here I saw great opportunity with these men. I saw human beings instead of wild caged-up animals, which is, for some reason, what I thought I might encounter," she confessed. "I saw guys, many of whom were very repentant over the things they had done to hurt society, and who just wanted a second chance."
She offers that second chance by training the inmates on how to own and operate a business.
Ryan Holly, who is serving time for aggravated assault, says going to prison and then being accepted into PEP saved his life. "I kind of think about where would I be now if I never had come here," he said.
Holly says he knows being an ex-con could make it hard for him once he gets out of prison. But he says this program, and Catherine Rohr, have given him the confidence to take on that challenge. "Through the PEP network, first of all, and through the things they teach you in PEP -- they teach you drive, how to execute things, how not to give up," he stated.
Inmate Juan Garza is serving the last year of a 15-year sentence for murdering a rival drug dealer. He plans to develop a legitimate business once he is out, though he says he will never get over the guilt he feels. "I plan on putting it behind me, but I do not plan on forgetting it or trying to forget it," Garza said.
Catherine Rohr says men who once ran drug trafficking gangs already have some notion of how business works.
"Any drug dealer understands business concepts and I thought if these guys were equipped with business tools and a network," she said. "That they could go and make a great difference."
She says her ultimate goal is not for them to become successful businessmen, although she hopes they do. "I really hope that they are giving back to society after having taken so much," she said.
Catherine Rohr says some of the most generous financial supporters of this program are former participants who found success outside of prison. She hopes to replicate this Texas program all across the country.