Turning Prisoners Into Entrepreneurs

At the Cleveland Correctional Center in southeast Texas, selected prisoners learn about business skills in classes through the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, operated by a Houston nonprofit with the same name. Last month, the program partnered with Baylor University to offer certificates in entrepreneurship to every prison inmate who completes the program. Here is a series of photos highlighting the program. Photos by Tamir Kalifa, reporting by Maurice Chammah.

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The Cleveland Correctional Center, 50 miles northeast of Houston, is a private prison operated by the GEO group under the authority of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The Prison Entrepreneurship Program is housed at the unit.

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Bert Smith, a veteran businessman who is now CEO of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, teaches a weekly class to more than 100 inmates.

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Inmates in the program use a curriculum that includes books used in master’s degree programs, as well as Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

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Morgan Crocker delivers his business proposal for a fitness training service to other inmates.

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Days before his release from prison, Brandon Biko Reese reads during a session of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program.

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Surrounded by fellow inmates, Shawn Evans reviews his character assessment, a document detailing his strengths and weaknesses as measured by a class survey. Inmates complete character assessments for every member of the class.

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Within the classroom, inmates are free to assist one another with work. Many graduates of the program attend the classes to support current students.

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Inmates listen to a business proposal by one of their peers.

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Reese is enthusiastically welcomed to the front of the room to give a farewell speech. In an effort to “de-gangsterize” inmates, administrators encourage them to dance and cheer for their peers whenever possible.

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Inmates pray together for Reese before he is released.

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Inmates leave the classroom at 4:30 p.m., the conclusion of their class day.

This article was originally published on Turning Prisoners Into Entrepreneurs

Author: MAURICE CHAMMAH

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