Q: Catherine Rohr | Redeeming Justice

And after the most pleasant presentation came the most emotional: Catherine Rohr.

Rohr is the founder of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program.  She uses business as a tool to love inmates and help them succeed in life – and stay out of jail – once they leave.  As part of her program she takes in the top gang leaders and drug dealers – the people who are already naturally leaders and entrepreneurs.   In the program all the inmates spend four months in a business plan competition (and doing the chicken dance).  When the are released from prison, Rohr picks them up at the gate and will already have housing arranged for them and planned interviews with companies.

In three years, the PEP has had 256 graduates.  There have been no active participants who have gone back to prison; and only 2.8% of the people in this program have been kicked out.  Rohr believes this huge success rate is because of one simple thing: she and the PEP staff love them.

When prisoners in Texas are released they are given one outfit of clothes, $100, and a bus ticket to the city they committed their crime in.  Rohr tells the story of one graduate who, when she picked him up, immediately handed her $10 (of the only $100 he had to his name).  He wanted to tithe.  He currently makes $9/hr and tithes 10% to his church and then gives another 5% to the PEP.

Rohr reminds us that prisoners – even murderers – can be role models.  She questioned why the church won’t have faith in former convicts, but will allow grace for the “old-school” murderers in Moses, Paul and David.

This was, without question, the most emotional time of the day.  The guilt that comes from being cleansed from the stereotypes we have of people so foreign to us like prisoners.  They’re criminals… they must be evil, right?  Is it safe to have a former convict as a church attendee if we have a preschool program?  Can they ever really change?  Why should we bother even trying to help?

And in telling her story, Rohr lavishes love on these people we have sought to de-humanize.  My first reaction is to simply think – “well, I don’t interact with that culture.  My life doesn’t intersect with them… that’s why I’ve never thought about it that way.  I don’t know any ex-cons.

Aaron, Aaron, that is the point!  I don’t interact with that culture; I never have… and there’s too large of a chance that I never will.  Why do I refuse to lavish love on them?  If I don’t, if my peers don’t, if this body of Christ doesn’t intercede and pour love on them… what kind of life are they going to have off of $100 and a one-way bus ticket?  If we who claim that “love wins” don’t bother to love them… who will?

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11 Responses to “Q: Catherine Rohr | Redeeming Justice”

  1. Aaron,
    If you really want to lavish love on ex-cons, come talk to me. I work with high school boys who have yet to be given that title, but are on that track if someone doesn’t step in and show them some love.

  2. Thanks for sharing this–what an awesome program.

  3. […] As well as this he left me with some websites and names to check out.  One name is Catherine Rohr, so I googled the name and came to this encouraging article: https://linne.wordpress.com/2007/04/26/q-catherine-rohr-redeeming-justice/. […]

  4. Hello – I just came across this post. I’ve been involved with this program for a couple years and have attended 3 “business plan competitions” so far. I will go back again in a couple weeks. It truly is an awesome experience and these men are amazing.

    I met a man who was getting out after being locked up for 30 years and 9 months. This man’s heart was bigger than most people I meet in the “free world”. Last class, there was a man who served over 20 years and actually requested his release be delayed 3 more weeks so he could graduate with his class. I could tell many more stories like this…

  5. Pamela C. Gray Says:

    Ms. Rohr,
    I aspire to be like you. I work in an alcohol and drug treatment center and see so many people who just need a chance. They need someone to believe in them and to give them the tools to live sober and progress in their lives. You set the example we should all follow. Too many prisons are being built, but not enough rehabilitation is going on. If I can ever help you, please let me know.

  6. QUESTION MARK Says:

    That is nice of Catherine Rohr to “teach” convicts and all, yet don’t you people think that

    THERE ARE HUGE RISKS TEACHING CONVICTS “ENTREPRENEUAL SKILLS”?

    Surely as a former “Wall Street” Financial expert she should had considered the RISKS that are

    involved at this sort of “investment” at the convict.

    Risks such as, the convicts putting their newly acquired “entrepreneual knowledge” for crime

    such as drugs, money launder, weapons supply, arms dealing, prostitution, human trafficking and

    trying to get a “legitimate” business(mafia) as a front for crime-related activities.

    Yes, that is unfair not to give convicts a second chance or a benefit of a doubt, but even

    “Wall Street” people do not bet on every stock “possible” of being a bull market either.

    No offense but her “life-changing visit to a Texas pen”, — are we even to ask that this was

    not a case of some form of Stockolm Syndrome, and a “naughty pretty daddy’s girl” that wants

    the “bad guy” to get in her pants?

  7. Question Mark,

    You are a sad, cynical soul who needs our prayers as much, if not more, than the inmates in this program. PEP has accomplished a truly positive feat that will have an exponential effect on many lives, perhaps even yours. For you to belittle its founder and demean the program in small-minded terms you can understand says more about you than anything else. And it isn’t positive, it’s quite sad. I would encourage you to read more about the program and the people involved in it.

  8. one who knows Says:

    I am a PEP boy myself, and I just want to say that I’m so thankful for the open minded, loving people out there in the world. My life will never be as it once was thanks to what I experienced in the PEP program. Everyone thinks it a business class and that it is, but it will also wash the prison mentality off you. PEP gave me the same opportunities everyone else has. The only difference is that I appreciated it more than the “non felon”. I will work hard and live right. Just to give my two cents! Catherine Rohr has outstanding character. She personifies what it means to be of integrity,courage, and she did what other people only think about. Mark you should stick a big bar of soap in your mouth, you my friend have no idea what you talking about.

  9. Jonathan Says:

    I am a proud member of PEP myself, and I honestly would have said and thought the same thing as Mark a few years prior. Fortunately for me, (although being in prison is not something fortunate) I have had the priveledge of participating in PEP and graduating form the Business Plan Competion while incarcerated, and have come to know Catherine Rohr personally. Since my release from prison I have found employment through the support of Catherine Rohr in a small, but growing company which also supports the PEP program and took a gamble on hiring their first convicted felon. Believe me Mark, and all others that may have negative thoughts towards Cat or the PEP program, her heart is definetly in the right place. Had her heart not have been right, believe you me, all the bonafide convicts that have associated themselves with the program would have snuffed her out a long time ago. I am currently a Supervisor in the comapny I work for with a fairly decent salary, thanks to the good people of this world who don’t remain in a cynical, close-minded, bubble. This program is currently doing a world of good and I cannot say enough about PEP. Period.

    J-FLO Class 3

  10. If I only knew how to speak to someone from PEP. My heart breaks for my son who is in prison. He has a wonderful mind and soul but has managed to remain in and out of prison from his late teens.

    He is currently within the Texas system and may be released in May to yet again have “nothing” and go “nowhere” in life.

    Help me please. Thank you for any information you could share.

    Debbie

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