VENUS— A Texas non-profit is working to make sure that convicted felons have a path to employment.
This isn't a handout, rather something that each man has to earn, and many do not.
Just off HWY 1807 in Johnson County, Estes Unit, a state prison is home to more than a thousand convicted felons.
For these men, today is not an ordinary day; it's graduation day. The excitement is clear and so is the camaraderie.
"I just want to thank my brothers because y'all have been with me for the longest time, for real," said one inmate while addressing the crowd.
They're all apart of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, a non profit brought in to helps inmates earn business skills.
"Our volunteers come in expecting nothing in return," said Bert Smith the non-profit's CEO. "To have these men have any human being do that for them and walk along side with them is a completely new experience. That compassion, that love if you will, is a change agent."
Make no mistake, many of these men have a long way to go and a paper trail that will follow them.
"I couldn't go visit her and it came as like, 'I'm not going to be able to go visit my mom because I have to go do some time,' and that's when I realized I was deep in trouble," said Marcus Woods.
Woods was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to prison in 2013
About half of the men in the program have been convicted of a violent crime, and many have been locked up before.
To stay in the program they have to stay the straight and narrow.
But today isn't about his past. Instead, his focus is on a business he'd like to open in the future.
"I just want to be in the kitchen for a little bit to give the guys one good meal," Woods said.
For Woods, that means a soul food restaurant in East Texas. There's no money awarded to the winner, but the business plan and the work behind it was very real.
"Every one of these men raised his hand and said, 'I want to. I want to change my own future and I'm willing to do the hard yards to get there,'" Smith said.
By the end of the day, Woods will be a graduate of the program, but he'll still be an inmate. He has a parole hearing in July.