I Can't Wait to Go Back to Prison!
After watching all presidential election debates this year, I was amazed that not once did the topic of mass incarceration come up in any of them. Check these stats out:
• The United States of America holds around 5 percent of the world's population, but holds approximately 25 percent of the world's prison population.
• The United States spends well over $74 billion on incarceration per year (some stats say as high as $80 billion per year).
• 1 in 100 people in the U.S. are in prison for a total of 2.3 million people.
• 1 in 32 people are in prison, parole, or probation in the U.S.
Having given you these stats on mass incarceration, I will confess that in many cases I hate giving statistics. It seems as if our nation has become much more proficient at giving statistics and describing our problems, than focusing on creating and implementing some tangible solutions to fix our problems. I really am tired of talking about stats; I want to focus on actions that result in solutions and aligning myself with those that have the same vision.
Last week I had the opportunity to visit an organization who is also well beyond merely talking about the problems of mass incarceration: the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (www.PEP.org). who shares my belief that we do not have to wait for the government to provide a solution to mass incarceration. Last week I had the opportunity to fly to Houston, Texas to spend the entire day with PEP. What I saw was one of the most effective solutions to the problem of mass incarceration I have ever seen.
I was picked up early in the morning by Bert Smith, a committed employee of PEP. After breakfast we went to the Cleveland Correctional Facility in Cleveland, Texas where PEP has set up much of their programming. As Bert led me through the tour of the facility many of the inmates recognized me from my book "Living in the Village" and the 8 week LIV curriculum which PEP has adopted as part of their expansive curriculum they offer to inmates. I was extremely moved and humbled as the guys continuously came up to me sharing their gracious words of what my book has meant to them.
At 9:00 a.m. Bert showed me into the PEP room. This was a room inside the facility where much of the learning takes place. Wall to wall carpeting, nicely painted, and full of modern technology... Bert explained to me how PEP remodeled this room to create a comfortable learning space for the men to learn and be empowered.
I sat in a two hour workshop discussing manhood which was a part of a multi-week curriculum. When the men broke into small groups I accepted an offer to join a group. Soon we were all laughing and sharing some of our innermost secrets revealing the struggles/obstacles we are facing in our lives and how we can overcome these struggles. It got extremely personal and I felt moved at the intimacy we were able to achieve in such a short time.
At 11:30 a.m. we had "chow time." To be honest I now understand the many jokes about institutional food. The jokes are pretty accurate. However, we went immediately into another session which I facilitated on the importance of financial literacy. Most of the 100 or so gentlemen in the room had read much of "Living in the Village" so my intent was to lead an open discussion going more into details about the curriculum. This session lasted over three hours and it was one of the most fun sessions of financial literacy I have experienced. The thirst and excitement to obtain this knowledge only gave me more enthusiasm to stay as long as possible.
That evening I delivered the keynote address for a PEP graduation ceremony. This was a ceremony given for those who have recently been released and employed, but want to take additional entrepreneurship courses offered through PEP. Most of these graduates had also taken PEP courses while incarcerated as well. I was moved at not only the 30 graduates of the program, but the extraordinarily high level of community support given by those who, like myself, volunteered their time to teach their expertise inside the prison through PEP.
Here you see the Chief Digital Officer of PEP Jeremy Gregg talk about the positive impact and tangible results PEP has been able to achieve. He took pride in that fact that 100 percent of graduates of the PEP program have been able to achieve employment despite the recession.
I travel the country trying to implement solutions of financial literacy as well as to highlight solutions that are working. I am so grateful to PEP that I was able to do both and prayerfully can play even a small part in the enormous undertaking they have challenged themselves to achieve in reducing recidivism. Let me be candid in expressing my strongest desire that this article was written with the intent of three outcomes.
1. That people are made aware of the work of PEP and make the decision to donate to their cause (time and/or money).
2. That people are inspired by the work of PEP and make the decision to find the answers to our nation's issues themselves rather than wait on the government for answers and solutions.
3. Develop a sense of faith in knowing that as long as we all continue to do our part and each make a contribution to the solve the problems of our society then our brightest days are truly ahead of us.
I pray that I have achieved all three outcomes, but that is solely depending upon you, the reader, and the actions you decide to take starting right now!