NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Anyone who goes to prison can learn good and bad.
The Prison Entrepreneur Program provides positive lessons for both the student and the teacher. Years of volunteerism by one couple are leading to a unique partnership at Stephen F. Austin State University.
Dr. Carl Pfaffenberg and his wife Sherry have a longstanding relationship with the Prison Entrepreneur Program. Sherry began voluntarily marketing PEP with her son, a PEP graduate and now successful businessman. Carl mentors the inmates, primarily at the Cleveland prison unit.
"Well it's sort of a time and treasure opportunity for me," Carl said. "I donate time to the program and I serve as a business plan advisor."
He equips inmates with the ability to create their own jobs. With retirement in the wings, Pfaffenberg invited PEP's Kristie Wisniewski to pitch the program to the SFA Business Department. Students can provide a needed link to the outside.
"The men are building a business plan and they cannot do market research," Wisniewski said. "They don't have access to the Internet from inside prison and so the business plan advisors do current market research."
SFA senior Hunter Hayes volunteered as an advisor for extra credit from Pfaffenberg. In the end, he received much more than a higher grade.
"They just give you just an overwhelming kind of comfort that you lose sight that they are prisoners and that they made a mistake in their life to get them to prison and they have exceptional qualities that I think as everyday citizens don't really have because we haven't had that adversity."
The lesson was powerful. Hayes' own father was incarcerated, but never had the opportunity shared by PEP graduate Charles Hearne, now a PEP representative.
"PEP has greatly impacted my life and I see that do it to the lives of others and their families every single day," Hearne said.
PEP has partnerships with Baylor University and Texas A&M State University. SFA could be next.
"The whole university and the college particularly, we're interested in experiential learning for our students so I can see this as a win-win," said Dr. Ann Wilson, the interim associate dean for SFA's College of Business
The victory would be one for the Pfaffenbergs who want PEP to grow in East Texas.
"I'm a big believer in the program. It works," Pfaffenberg said.
The Prison Entrepreneur Program offers a three-month character development course and a six-month Business Plan Competition followed by a re-entry program.
One hundred percent of the graduates have a job within 90-days of release from prison.
You can learn more about volunteering the Prison Entrepreneur Program Website.
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