Where does PEP operate?

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) runs six-month entrepreneurship training programs at the Sanders Estes Unit in Venus, Texas and the Oliver J .Bell Unit in Cleveland, Texas.

Where are the Units located?

The Estes Unit is in Venus, Texas, located approximately 40 miles southwest of Dallas, and 35 miles southeast of Fort Worth.

The address and phone number for Estes is:

1100 Hwy 1807

Venus, TX 76084
(972) 366-3334

The Oliver J. Bell Unit is located approximately 45 miles northeast of Houston and 180 miles east of Austin.

The address and phone number for Cleveland is:

901 E. 5th Street

Cleveland, TX   77327

(281) 592-9959

What should I do when I arrive?

When you arrive at any unit, park anywhere in the parking lot, except in the reserved spaces. Lock your car with the windows rolled up – unlocked vehicles on TDCJ property will be towed. Come in the front door and a staff member will meet you, check you in, give you a name tag for the day, and take your driver’s license which will be held by the warden’s secretary until the end of the day when you leave the unit.

What should I bring with me inside the prison?


  • Car keys
  • Driver’s license, state ID or passport. (Please bring the same ID you used to RSVP.)

Do Not Bring

  • Cell phone, PDA or pagers (This is a felony in Texas!)
  • Wallet, purse or briefcase
  • Cash, coins or stamps
  • Business cards
  • Firearms or weapons – not even in the parking lot
  • Tobacco products
  • Camera
  • Medication – if you need to take medication during your visit, please notify us so we can make appropriate arrangements
  • Anything else not pre-approved by PEP staff

We will provide pens and notepads inside the unit, if needed.

Who should I contact if I have questions?

For all questions about PEP events, you can reach us at info@pep.org or by calling 832-767-0928.

What should I wear?

We are all business at PEP and that includes our attire. Extreme hair styles/colors are not allowed by TDCJ, nor is jewelry worn on facial areas (nose, eyebrows or tongue). If you have questions please visit TDCJ’s website and review their Handbook for Volunteers (https://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/documents/Volunteer_Handbook.pdf). Dress code as well as other matters are addressed there. The dress code is business professional. Please avoid wearing cologne or perfume.

Gentlemen: Wear a suit or a sport coat with slacks. A tie is optional. No open-toed shoes.

Ladies: Refrain from wearing dresses, skirts or cropped pants. TDCJ rules require that ladies dress modestly and conservatively. PEP recommends slacks and a jacket/sweater over a blouse that is not sheer or low cut (in the front or in the back). Both shoulders and the midriff area must be covered at all times. Sheer fabrics or tight fitting clothing such as slacks or pants are not allowed.

Executive Volunteers are allowed into prison at the discretion of the warden and his/her security staff; if a volunteer is not dressed appropriately they may not be allowed into the unit. If you have questions about your clothing please err on the side of moderation. Volunteers should feel free to call our Houston office at (832) 767-0928 or Dallas office at (214) 575-9909 with any questions/ concerns about your visit to prison

What is my role as a volunteer?

Encourage the participants

  • Remember you are in business attire and they are in a prison uniform. The participants are going to be intimidated by your clothing, education and success. Keep this in mind as you offer feedback and interact with them. Hopefully by the end of the day you will see that the only difference between you is some clothing and a few choices.
  • One-on-one time is an important aspect of each event because you are able to really get to know the participants on an individual level. Use this time to help them practice their interpersonal skills and build their confidence. It never hurts to reassure our participants on a personal level.

Use your business knowledge to improve the participants’ pitches and business plans

  • Depending on the event you attend, you will get to see the participants’ business plans at different stages of development. Sometimes you will play the role of an investor as the participants pitch their initial ideas. Other times you’ll play the role of a hard to sell customer or an interviewer. Still, there will be times that you will find yourself as a friend and an advisor.
  • Use what you know from your education and real world experience to improve what the participants have put together. Remember, we’re shooting for quality plans that will be viable in the “free world.”
  • Don’t be afraid to offer constructive criticism if you see changes that need to be made. That is why you are there!


  • We encourage our men to use good vocabulary and avoid the use of slang and swear words. We  would encourage our volunteers to model this behavior as well.

Abide by all prison rules

  • As fun as PEP events can be, we have to remember that we are in a prison and it is imperative to abide by all prison rules for everyone’s safety.
  • This means that all guests need to arrive at the specified time and plan to stay until the event is completed.
  • Each guest will be subject to a pat down search from a same-gender prison guard. This is to ensure the safety of everyone involved with PEP.
  • Please remain in the area(s) to which you are assigned and move around the unit only with a PEP staff member or a Correctional Officer escort.
  • Please do not give anything to or accept anything from a participant.

What is the security level at the Unit?

All three units are pre-release minimum/medium security facilities. Cleveland houses 520 men, Estes houses 1040 men and Lockhart houses 1000 women. Inmates are typically within one to three years of release. In prison terms, this is very little time left, and inmates tend to be on their “best behavior.” PEP staff and volunteers have never encountered security problems with inmates, and we ask you to follow our rules to ensure program safety.

Can you tell me about your class participants?

We expect all of the participants to be released within a year of joining our program – most to the Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston areas. Participants who meet qualifying criteria are selected after completing a 10-page application package, passing three exams, and interviewing with PEP staff members. Each participant accepted into the class has demonstrated his or her commitment to personal transformation.

Why does PEP request my driver’s license information?

TDCJ requires each guest to submit driver’s license information for security clearance purposes. Formerly incarcerated persons are still allowed into the unit, but we need to be aware of these circumstances.

What else should I know about my prison visit?

Contact Information

DO NOT give any inmate your personal contact information, and do not distribute business cards. These are violations of TDCJ rules. It is PEP policy that our volunteers do not communicate via mail with our participants while they are incarcerated. Please do not give or take any contact information.


Please be aware that our participants are very impressionable and will look to you as a role model of success. We ask that you be a positive influence. Please refrain from using any curse words or from making inappropriate jokes

A little nervous?

Most of you have probably never stepped foot in a prison and are not sure what to expect. Although many executives initially have reservations, as soon as they walk through the prison gates and actually “see what an inmate looks like,” most of their fears disappear. Although all the units are “real prisons,” it is not like the movies. We see tremendous opportunity in these men and women, and do not view them as caged animals as much of our society does. Many of these people landed in prison precisely because they were entrepreneurs in the first place. They are intelligent, creative, passionate and driven individuals.

We also expect that you will find our participants to be extremely courteous and thoughtful. We have a few participants in our program who made the bad mistake of having an extra drink after a cocktail party and killed someone in a drunk-driving accident on their way home. Others grew up on the streets – without a chance, without hope, without fathers. They learned violence and drugs at an early age. They have paid dearly for their choices. The only reason why they were hand-selected to participate in PEP, and why they have persisted through this intensive program, is because they are choosing to live a different life and have new values.

Given that every participant is nearing release, the rate of “negative incidents” on any of the units is exceptionally low, even among inmates. They do not want to do anything wrong to mess up their chances of going home. We expect that you will feel surprisingly comfortable at the unit. Of the executives who have participated in PEP in the past, almost all get “hooked” and can’t wait to come back. This is an opportunity for you to leverage your skills and expertise in a very meaningful and tangible way.