Some situations are hard to write about, mostly because they hold so many indescribable feelings and emotions that run deep into our futures. This is one of those situations.
Let me be clear, this wasn't the first time I was in prison, so I new a little of what I could expect. I had been in 3 prisons in Guatemala. But it was my first time in prison in the United States.
I was nervous.
Did you know that, according to the Buerau of Justice Statistics, 1 out of every 38 persons in the United States were under correctional supervision at year end 2016? That is over 6.5 million persons!
According to Prison Insider's (www.prisoninsider.com) country profile for Guatemala, a little over 12% of the population is imprisoned in Guatemala City. Prisons in Guatemala were almost at a 300% occupancy rate according to 2016 reports from various sources. In 2018 it has already surpassed a 350% occupancy rate according to the Guatemalan Center for Economic Research (CIEN) and El Periódico.
48% of those incarcerated are under preventive measures, awaiting trial. This wait could last for up to 10 months.
This problem is what had brought me to prison. I had the hope that something could be done to solve it. And I had found 1 organization that was proving, year after year, this problem could be solved in the most amazing way!
Let me introduce you to Prison Entrepeneurship Program (PEP, www.pep.org) in Texas, U.S.A. by sharing some of their amazing statistics.
According to a study performed between 2005-2014 by the experts for the Bureau of Justice Statistics:
We had the opportunity to meet with many staff members (including Bert Smith, CEO Emeritus) who all were willing to give freely of their time to help us understand how the program works. Many of them are PEP graduates! Which speaks even higher of the program's success.
In prison, I was moved by the level of openness and maturity that every program participant demonstrated. The energy level was highly positive and contagious. Here are men who can now admit and take responsibility for their faults and offenses against society and still do it with such geniune dignity and humility. If this isn't what rehabilitation really looks like then I don't know what it looks like at all!
We were able to be part of the panel of judges for the Business Plan Pitches. I learned a thing or two from these men. Their confidence in delivery and in their business idea was truely inspiring.
Next day was the graduation ceremony for PEP Soldiers of Spring 2018 class. As I said at the beginning of this article....there are no words to accurately convey the amount of restored relationships we witnessed: beautiful family reunions; restored faith in a grandad, dad, brother or son; loving, supporting and strong women, standing by their man; young children meeting fathers for the first time...and so much more.
As I said to the PEP participants at one point, it is hard to find such genuine and humble people anywhere in the world. PEP has been able to coach them not only to be good business men but, above all, to be great men and strong role models in their communities.
These men inspired us to do more for those who may be waiting for an opportunity through a program in Guatemalan prisons.
A program like PEP.
For more on this trip (including our viewing of an award nominated movie about a restaurant fully staffed with ex-prisoners!) visit: guatemayan.com
For more on PEP: www.pep.org