Catherine Rohr Knows A Thing Or Two About Second Chances

Negative stigmas surround the prison system nationwide. But what if the people in those cells could REALLY turn their lives around and find something LEGAL to pursue? What if those convicts would be transformed into entrepreneurs? That’s what came to the mind of Catherine Rohr when she visited prisons through a religious community outreach program. She thought about how many of these people behind bars ran their own “businesses” on the outside. They just happened to be illegal businesses. But what if that entrepreneurial spirit could be channeled into something legit?



PEP And The Scandal

In 2004, Catherine Rohr saw her Prison Entrepreneurship Program spring to life by spending pretty much all her and her husband’s money on the PEP Program. PEP started in Texas, and there she was able to intertwine her religious background and her business background all into one program. She and others taught classes on marketing, finance and how to act in a professional setting. She enjoyed much success with her new program. Five hundred inmates graduated from the program, 60 actually started their own business. She received awards from the governor of Texas and from former president George W. Bush.



But with the success came shades of failure. In 2009 Rohr saw herself in the middle of a scandal that ultimately barred her from the program she started just years before. One of the volunteers, Bert Smith, kept PEP running as smooth as Peter Pan Peanut Butter.


Unfortunately, Rohr’s life was not as smooth. Her scandal was not only national news but also global news.  She was in the public eye and for all the wrong reasons. While dealing with her scandal she also went through a divorce with her husband of nine years.


Rohr Receives A Second Chance

Of course the media made a spectacle of her, despite praising her for her good works in the past. Though she received a lot of negative press, she still had people on her side. Letters from supporters came flooding in to Rohr and in those letters she found her second wind. She knew she had to keep on trunkin’.



She moved to New York City and created a new program, quite similar to PEP, but under a different name. Defy Ventures became her new life. Defy Ventures offers free clasess to ex-cons, under two circumstances: they have to admit to their crime and have to be willing to change their lives. Defy offers a contest for the best business-plan. The winner of this competition will move on to the incubator program that runs six months. There is also prize money given to the winner.


Rohr does not hide the fact that she messed up and got a second chance. Programs like Defy are all about giving second chances to people who may have thought they’d never get one or didn’t deserve one. Rohr is certainly leading by her strong and resilient example.


Photo Credits / /