If you’re a convicted criminal, finding a job while you’re in prison is often easier than getting one after you’ve served your time. Because of an expansive list of mandatory post-release sanctions, inmates often leave prison facing what Jeremy Travis, the president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former director of the National Institute of Justice, has called a secondary “invisible punishment” that is frequently more severe than the one levied by any judge or jury.
But what if inmates can be taught how to work— or even to create their own jobs? That’s the model used by Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), a privately funded, multimillion-dollar nonprofit based in Houston, Texas. Originally launched as a Christian ministry venture, PEP operates on the belief that individuals have worth, that lives and their trajectories can change, and that hard work and discipline bring rewards.