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Business Women help inmates

Sept. 17, 2010

By Blair Stephens

Baylor Business Women are preparing to spend an evening in prison with inmates from the Prison Entrepreneurship Program.

PEP is a nonprofit organization that helps inmates learn how to be successful in business after being released. Once every six months, the inmates attend an etiquette night. The event will be held today at the Cleveland Civic Center in Cleveland, Texas.

Melanie Smith, former Baylor Business Women faculty adviser, initiated Baylor's involvement in Etiquette Night four years ago after a suggestion by Catherine Rohr, former CEO of PEP.

"[It is a] night to teach inmates how to conduct themselves like businessmen, and a way to encourage inmates that they can be labeled gentlemen and businessmen, not felons," Smith said. "The night gives the guys a chance to interact with people. We have a contest and eat dinner and get them used to talking," Edmond, Okla., junior Rachel Koester, president of Baylor Business Women, said.

Gretchen Gruenberg, Baylor Business Women programs chair, said every inmate presents a business plan.

"Their business plans are very realistic -- things they can do after prison," Gruenberg said.

Koester said her experience at Etiquette Night was not what she expected and that her nerves eventually calmed.

"I was nervous that [Etiquette Night] was going to be awkward. But it has a festive atmosphere," Koester said. "The guys are more nervous to talk to you than you are to them."

Gruenberg said, "I don't know what I expected but [it] is super crazy and fun, kind of like summer camp. [The inmates] use fake names like Frosty and Pink Buttercup. It helps to break down the image of a tough guy."

For Baylor women, the event is an opportunity to interact with people outside the Baylor community.

"The men are not animals; they are human beings and should be treated with respect," Smith said.

Jose Cavaliere, PEP business instructor, said the inmates, who are looking to improve their lives, were glad to see a group of women assist them with their new life goals.

"[The inmates] are impressed that a group of ladies want to come out and spend a Friday night and show them proper etiquette," Cavaliere said. "They want to live better lives."