Catherine Rohr, a private-equity investor, was a long way from Wall Street when she decided to visit a prison in Sugar Land, Texas, four years ago. What she witnessed there changed her life.
"I thought I was going on this zoo tour to see these wild caged animals. Instead, I saw many men who were repentant and had their hands up in the air, worshiping God," Rohr, then 26, told CT. "I found it ironic that the closest I ever felt to God was in prison on Easter weekend. I had been so condemning of these men, but I felt that they really knew God."
Rohr spoke with the inmates about how they ended up behind bars, about leading gangs and running drugs, and she quickly decided that prison was a "storehouse of untapped potential." The men she encountered were brimming with business savvy. It was just misdirected.
A month later, Rohr launched the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), which offers business training from MBA students at elite schools such as Harvard and Wharton—and from some of the 4,000 CEOs in Rohr's Rolodex.
Rohr and her husband, a New York lawyer, rearranged their lives to make it happen. They left high-paying jobs, invested $50,000 of their own money, emptied Rohr's 401k, and even sold her wedding ring. After four months, the couple moved to Houston, not knowing where they would sleep: all their possessions were stolen out of their van the day they arrived.
Since those early struggles, PEP has graduated 420 students as of this August. Program instructors help participants develop business plans they can use upon their release: theft-reduction, landscaping, real estate, and so on. Rooted heavily in Christian values, weekly instruction is also devoted to morality and discipline, but submitting to God is not a requirement ...1