2:00p.m. on April 24 , 2020: Today is the official graduation day of our 26th class, Spring 2020. Unfortunately, we had to cancel this event and their Business Plan Competition due to COVID-19 but we want to let you know that everyone at PEP is safe and we want to give you an update on how PEP has been adapting and innovating during this time.
On the inside:
- We put together a virtual BPC for the Spring 2020 Class that we hope to roll out as soon as we receive clearance from TDCJ.
- Warden Upshaw has graciously offered to host a private graduation ceremony for the Spring 2020 class (in very small groups) that will include photos of the men in their caps & gowns and inspiring video messages from their family members.
- With the help of our volunteers, we are developing a video curriculum that will be delivered via computer lab, facilitated by our Peer Educators and the unit Warden.
- We are empowering our Servant Leaders to take ownership in shepherding the next class.
- We are communicating with our Peer Educators and Pod Coaches via the Warden, as well as JPAY (a messaging service), providing them with information and content to keep all participants engaged and encouraged.
On the outside:
- To date, there are no cases of COVID-19 in PEP’s transitional houses, but we have put together protocols in case that happens.
- We have expanded our weekly eSchool classes via ZOOM calls to include all three major markets, as well as our participants who are outside of these primary service areas.
- Key employers are partnering with PEP to hire our men who are recently released or have been furloughed due to COVID-19.
- Our volunteers and staff have coordinated grocery assistance at our transitional houses.
- We have formed a partnership with TRACOM and Texas Career Center to provide HVAC career training at no cost to our participants with a 2-year job guarantee. (Currently only in north Texas)
- We have launched a new project called PEPTalks that utilizes ZOOM meetings to connect our released participants with key volunteers and community members via a one-on-one interview between me and the participant.
These are just a few of the things we have been busy working on and there are many more plans in the pipeline. The COVID-19 pandemic has given PEP the opportunity to lean on our 10 Driving Values, especially INNOVATION. It is more important than ever that we succeed. As PEP is too important to push pause and wait for things to change, we are focused on driving change.
Please keep our men, all inmates in the Texas prison system, and TDCJ staff in your prayers. To date, there are almost 700 inmates that have tested positive for coronavirus. More than 30 prisons are on medical restriction lockdown, affecting more than 13,000 Texas inmates. All prisoners and TDCJ staff are at great risk during this pandemic; let’s remember them in our prayers.
6:00p.m. on April 13, 2020: The Bell Unit in Cleveland is on lockdown to eliminate potential exposure now that there are confirmed COVID-19 cases in the city.
- Lockdown will last 14 days, so long as everyone stays well
- No inmates have symptoms
- This is a “Medical Lockdown” (used for safety/precaution)
- Cells are being wiped down with disinfectant daily
- The guys are getting Commissary weekly – they place an order and then it is delivered to them
- The men are getting showers daily
- Even though the men can’t make phone calls, they can receive letters (written in blue/black ink only, on plain white paper)We will continue to provide updates as they become available.
4:00p.m. on March 16, 2020: At this time, TDCJ is not allowing any non-essential staff or outside visitors into their units. This includes PEP In-prison staff. In an effort to be sensitive to the vulnerability of the health and well-being of our volunteers and participants on our units we are canceling the March 27 Pitch Day event at the Oliver J. Bell Unit and the April 3 Venture Capital Panel event at the Sanders Estes Unit. These events will not be rescheduled, and we will reassess our plans for events planned beyond April 3 by the end of business on Friday, March 27.
We are currently creating contingency plans for education and pitch evaluations related to our Business Plan Competition curriculum and will communicate those plans once they are finalized. The health and safety of our participants, volunteers, employees and our partners Texas Department of Criminal Justice and Management Training Corporation are PEP’s top priorities. We appreciate your understanding and patience as we navigate through these new challenges and stand strong in our mission to Transform Lives, Restore Families and Rebuild Communities.
4:30p.m. on March 13, 2020: At a press conference this afternoon Texas Govenor Greg Abbott announced that he has directed state officials to limit visitation in all state facilities, including all state jails and prisons. In response TDCJ has suspended all visitation until further notice.
At this time we are not canceling any of our curently scheduled events, but have suspended new registrations for events scheduled over the next 5 weeks pending further direction from both TDCJ and MTC.
10:50a.m. on March 13, 2020
The Prison Entrepreneurship Program is fully aware of concerns related to the Coronavirus and are keeping a close eye on the situation. PEP is committed to the health and well-being of our volunteers, participants and employees and our partners Texas Department of Criminal Justice and Management Training Corporation.
At this time, the relevant public officials are not recommending cancellation of gatherings, and PEP has no plans to cancel our events at the Oliver J. Bell Unit in Cleveland and Sanders Estes Unit in Venus.
We are monitoring periodic updates from Texas health professionals and the Center for Disease Control, as well as working diligently with both TDCJ and MTC to ensure that all precautions are taking place to keep the in-prison population safe when outside guests are visiting. As part of unit precautions:
You may be subject to additional questioning and scrutiny by security staff when arriving for an event. This may include hand sanitizing and hand washing stations.
We encourage all volunteers to thoroughly wash their hands prior to, during and after each of our events.
You are encouraged to bring your own hand sanitizer, it must be a clear platic bottle, no sprays, no pumps, small in size (1 fl. oz. or less).
PEP intends to limit physical contact between volunteers and participants by having alternative greetings rather than handshakes and hugs.</s>
If you have any symptoms of any kind of sickness, we ask that you refrain from attending an event as prison populations are uniquely vulnerable and at a higher risk of acquiring viruses and infections.
TDCJ has released a public statement in response to Coronavirus, which can be found here.
MTC, who manages both the Oliver J Bell and Sanders Estes Units has also released a response, which can be found here.
We will issue an update to our position as conditions and circumstances change.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us, and we thank you for your cooperation.