Today, my friend Mark L. was released from prison … 20 years, 1 month, and 13 days after he first entered in October of 1994.
I met Mark when he joined the Prison Entrepreneurship Program in 2013. He was a member of PEP’s Class “Tenacious” 20, and he graduated in December 2013. Through PEP, Mark earned a Certificate in Entrepreneurship from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business.
As impressive as this certificate is (particularly for someone in prison), Mark learned something far more valuable than how to launch and grow a business. He learned how to live a life of purpose through service.
Mark Lewis in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program
After he graduated, Mark could have spent the rest of his incarceration the way that typical inmates do … watching TV, exercising on the rec yard, etc. But instead, Mark asked to return to PEP as a “servant leader.”
In the prison where Mark lived at the time, there were 520 inmates. Over 300 of these were currently involved in PEP: either as participants in the current class, new recruits awaiting the start of their journey, or past graduates who were still incarcerated. Within the latter group were a few dozen remarkable men who, like Mark, were volunteering to guide the classes that came after them.
PEP only has two staff members inside of prison on a daily basis… creating a student:teacher ratio of more than 125:1 (and needless to say, these are not your typical students). Their work would be impossible without the support of these extraordinarily committed servant leaders. These generous volunteers are the true hands and feet of PEP’s daily operations inside of prison.
Servant Leaders at the Prison Entrepreneurship Program’s facility near Dallas, Texas.
After guiding Class 21 from their Kickoff in January 2014 through their Graduation in June 2014, Mark was one of ten servant leaders who received a special invitation:
Transfer to another prison
on the other side of Texas
to bring PEP to other inmates.
Unlike their current facility, this new prison would have twice as many inmates… 1,040. And the men who accepted this challenge would be the only ones who were involved in PEP. The other 99% of the prison would be filled with members of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice‘s general inmate population.
Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to instill a new culture within this prison… a culture based on brotherhood, on love, on peace. You will be outnumbered 100-to-1. The other inmates will likely not share your values. But you will not be allowed to waver in your own.
These servant leaders knew that they would be subjected to harassment. They knew that physical, social, and emotional dangers would possibly confront them on a daily basis as they sought to transform the lives of the complete strangers around them.
And yet 10 of them accepted that call. And in August of 2014, they courageously joined PEP’s effort to expand into a new prison near Dallas, Texas.
Mark Lewis on the Day of His Release from Prison
Even among such servant leaders, Mark’s self-sacrifice stood out.
Shortly before he transferred, Mark was offered early release from prison. After more than two decades behind bars, he would finally be given his freedom.
And yet … he declined it and opted to stay in prison. Why?
With a level of sincerity and humility that I have found increasingly common among the men whom I have met in PEP, he told me:
I was chosen for a reason. My job is not yet done, and I am going to see it through to the end.
By sacrificing months of his own freedom, Mark equipped nearly 40 other inmates to complete this new program in PEP. He showed them a profound example of the transformation that would be possible in their own lives.
And today … after 7,349 days behind bars … Mark is free at last.
Welcome home, Mark!
An independent evaluation from Baylor University determined that the Prison Entrepreneurship Program outperforms all nine other prison rehabilitation groups in Texas with a long-term success rate as high as 95%. This study determined that every $1 donated to PEP generates at least a 340% ROI. Learn at www.PEP.org.
This story was originally posted on November 14, 2014 on LinkedIn. It was later distributed via StackStreet.