In my work at the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, I have met hundreds of inmates who are working hard to transform their lives.

PEP is not for the faint of heart. Our in-prison program begins with the Leadership Academy: a three-month “prep course” that is focused on character development. The process begins with the “eulogy exercise,” in which our participants write their own eulogy … not as it is, but as they would like for it to be.

prison entrepreneurship program pep

A participant in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP).

Beginning with the end in mind, our participants work backwards to figure out what they need to do in order to leave such a legacy. They do this while confronting their deepest vulnerabilities and greatest character flaws in community with their peers. This process is too much for some of them, and a number quit at this point.

For those who complete the Leadership Academy, they then enter PEP’s rigorous, 6-month “mini MBA” program that we call the Business Plan Competition.  This program utilized a values-based curriculum that combines character development with business education, including a college level textbook and analysis of Harvard MBA cases. The participants also write a complete business plan  and pitch it at least 120 times to others in an intense “Shark Tank” format within the prison.

The process is so robust that PEP’s graduates now earn a Certificate in Entrepreneurship from the Hankamer School of Business (among the top 5 entrepreneurship programs in the country according to Entrepreneur Magazine).

Once they are released, PEP’s graduates achieve unprecedented success in the “free world.” In fact, an independent evaluation from Baylor University recently confirmed that PEP delivers an 80-90% reduction in recidivism (i.e. return-to-prison rates). This study also demonstrated that PEP out-performs all nine other major prison rehabilitation organizations in Texas … and that every dollar donated to this privately funded organization generates at least a $3.40 measurable impact to the community.

(A conservative ROI of at least 340%.)

While these numbers confirm the validity of PEP’s process and the quality of its results, they do not answer the most important question:

What is it that makes PEP graduates more successful than their peers? 

Having worked with hundreds of men who have succeeded at the daunting task of personal transformation (as well as a number who have failed), I believe the answer is this: GRATITUDE.

Successful PEP Graduate.

Successful PEP Graduate recently named “Salesman of the Month” at his company.

The main characteristic that separates those who succeed from those who struggle is not intelligence, not charisma, not even hard work — but gratitude.

Gratitude compels you to support your neighbor who owes you nothing. And when he succeeds, you see your own success. Gratitude allows you to overlook the minor inconveniences of life so that you can remain focused on your larger goal. Gratitude calms your anger, removes your fear and strengthens your resolve.

Gratitude even finds a way to turn your challenges into opportunities, allowing you to grow in ways that you could not have achieved if you had remained mired in regret and disappointment.

As you look at yourself, consider the role that gratitude could play in improving your own life:

  • How much better would your professional results be if you focused on how grateful you are for your job?
  • How much stronger would your personal relationships be if you focused on how grateful you are for your spouse, your friends, your family?
  • How much healthier would you be if you focused on how grateful you are to still be alive at all?
  • How much more money would you have if you focused on how grateful you are for what you already have (rather than how much more you need to buy)?
  • How much happier would you be if you took time every day to list the things for which you are grateful?

Being grateful is not easy. It takes practice and discipline. One of the things that I did recently was download The Gratitude Journal — a $0.99 app that allows me to easily track my reasons for gratitude each day, and which prompts me each evening if I have not yet done so.

I am interested to hear from you. What are you doing to stay grateful?

Add your comments below or tweet them to me at @JeremyGregg. I am grateful for your time!


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