Good Investments: Teaching Texas Inmates About Business Can Turn Criminals Into CEOs

Categories: Cover Story, Crime

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Photos by Troy Fields
"This is not about charity.
This is about opportunity."

-- Jeremy Gregg, chief development officer, 
Prison Entrepreneurship Program

A short while into a 30-month sentence for buying a stolen trailer, James Cornish received a peculiar postcard in his Plainview prison cell.

It was from a group called the Prison Entrepreneurship Program. Even in prison, it seemed, there was no escape from junk mail. Cornish set it aside and didn't think much of it until a guy from that organization named Marcus Hill rolled in with a video and a spiel.

Hill said he had served five and a half years of a 17-year bit for possession of seven pounds of weed. He got that postcard, too. It changed his life. Now he was a recruiter. He went from prison to prison and preached the gospel of business education.

There was no shortage of rehabilitative or educational programs in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Many of them promised to hook you up with Jesus. But PEP was the only one that promised to hook you up with CEOs.

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The Dark Side of the Boom: Oil Is Doing Great Things for Some in Texas, but Not for Everyone

Categories: Cover Story

It was like landing on the moon. The thought ricocheted through Joleena Malugani's mind as she took in the vast, dusty expanse of the corner of West Texas claimed by Midland and Odessa. Malugani was fresh out of college when she came across an Ector County Independent School District booth at a job fair in Oregon. The recruiter mentioned there was an oil boom going on in the area and the district needed teachers. Malugani was in a state with one of the worst unemployment rates in the country, her student loans would soon be due and she needed a job.

Raised on the West Coast, she'd never been to Texas. It would be an adventure, she thought. In August 2012 she lined up an apartment, packed what she could fit in her car and drove more than 1,600 miles for a teaching job in the middle of West Texas. The blazing lights of oil rigs and the guttering flames of natural-gas flares blotted out the stars long before she pulled into town.

Odessa, Texas, sits on top of the Permian Basin, an oil-rich region 250 miles wide and 300 miles long that stretches across West Texas and up into New Mexico. Odessa and its sister city, Midland, went from being wide spots in the road to actual towns when oil was discovered almost a century ago. The wells came in big, and Permian production was the highest in the country for decades.

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Married, Sort Of: The Legal Limbo of Being Gay and Married in Texas

Categories: Cover Story

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Photos by Max Burkhalter
Jenn and Lizzie Wigle are wandering the halls of a bridal expo, searching more for ideas than products or services. Eventually they visit three of the events, looking at dresses, invitations, cake decorators and all the other trappings of the $40-billion-a-year American wedding industry.

Most of the vendors whom Jennifer and Elizabeth visit seem easygoing and accepting, but there is one scene that plays out over and over again with only minor variations among a significant minority of them.

"When are your dates?" a vendor asks, and Jenn and Lizzie both reply that it's going to be July 7, 2012. The event will be at a Crown Plaza hotel in Houston, which narrowly beat out Omni as a venue choice.

"Oh," the vendor says. "You'll be fighting each other for guests, ha-ha."

"No, we won't," Jenn replies. "It'll be all the same people because it's the same wedding. We're getting married."

"You're sisters having a double wedding?" the vendor asks. "That's so awesome."

"No," Jenn corrects for the dozenth time. "We're getting married. To each other."

"Oh," the vendor says, settling into an awkward silence. There's no open rudeness, just a deeply uncomfortable moment.

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Cover Story: Move Over, Colorado; Nevada May Be the New Amsterdam

Categories: Cover Story

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High rollers. Glitzy casinos. Feathered showgirls. And now, weed.

Las Vegas has long been a city of overindulgence. That little slogan, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas," exists for a reason. And that reason? Debauchery. Throw a little weed into the mix and it may just push that Vegas-bred stimulation into overdrive.

Not that legalization is a new subject in Nevada, mind you. When it comes to weed, the state has long been on board for medical use, with the state's voters electing to legalize medical marijuana way back in 2000. And Nevada doesn't only have medi-pot on the brain; a petition filed to legalize recreational pot as well is expected to pass by 2016, which will create a blanket legalization of the plant for the state.


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Cover Story: Private Companies Score Huge Property-Tax Breaks, Homeowners Don't

Categories: Cover Story

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Photo by Mario
Developers got the best of us on this one.
The old AstroWorld site, the Dallas Country Club, Valero refineries in the San Antonio and Port Arthur areas, and Western Refinery out in El Paso are a handful of high-end properties that have ditched millions of dollars in property taxes to the detriment of school districts, firefighters and emergency medical services.

There are so many more.

In this week's cover story, Houston Press takes a statewide look at the broken mass appraisal systems in many of Texas' major metropolitan areas, including Harris, Bexar, Travis, and Dallas counties.

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Cover Story: When the NASA Love Is Lost

Categories: Cover Story

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Illustration by Jesse Lenz
SpaceX completed another successful mission toting cargo to the International Space Station on Sunday. The launch was livestreamed from Cape Canaveral, but it was all focused in Florida and Johnson Space Center was never mentioned. There was a time this would have been unthinkable.

Check out our cover story: Houston's Space Problem: Johnson Space Center Has Lost Its Identity and Purpose

When JSC first opened in Houston it was the place to be. The people working there were going to send an astronaut from the Earth to the moon. They were going to find a way to send people to Mars. It all seemed possible because it had never been tried before. But that was then. Today JSC has been sidelined while the government funds commercial spaceflight companies and announces plans for manned missions to an asteroid in the 2020s and to Mars in the 2030s. People don't think about traveling in space the way they used to. "The romance of spaceflight has lost its glamour," Chris Kraft, the first director of Johnson Space Center, said.

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A Homeless Life With Cats on Allen's Landing (Video)

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Photos by Daniel Kramer

As you walk along the banks of Buffalo Bayou near Allen's Landing, the first thing noticeable about Percy Lyons, the subject of this week's feature on Houston's hidden homeless, is not his camp or his cots, but the cats.

In fact, the 16 cats that live up in Percy's camp are the only thing that may clue you into his whereabouts. It seems a plausible idea that someone living high up under the bridge where we spotted those collared, well-fed cats running around, but from the sidewalk below, it is impossible to tell.

It's impossible to tell where anyone's living in the area, really.

Continue, to see a video of Percy's cat camp on Buffalo Bayou.


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Putting Lives Back Together at Beacon Day Shelter

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There is a shelter smack dab in the middle of downtown Houston where those who are homeless are welcome to go. There are no beds, and no overnight hours.

This place, decorated with a scattered array of cafeteria tables and not much more, is known as The Beacon. This is a homeless shelter for the daylight hours.

See more: Houston's Hidden Homeless

Clients can use the phone, eat a warm meal, or simply find a seat or a corner to rest in. Shower and restroom facilities are available, as are laundry services. Beacon clients are even offered a set of scrubs to wear while volunteers wash their clothing, because that's often the only clothing they own.

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Cover Story: Trapped in Houston's Traffic Nightmare

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Not an exaggeration.
If you are under 40 and live inside the 610 Loop, where many young professionals have moved in the last 10 years and continue to do so with the kind of frenzied pace normally reserved for the Loop itself, your solutions to traffic are probably quite different than if you live in Clear Lake.

When asked, most inner loopers will tell you that an expanded rail service, more hike and bike paths, better sidewalks and street repairs to some of our worst roads should be at the top of the list. Ask a suburban dweller and the answer is probably wider freeways, more Park and Ride options and better HOV lanes. Both ignore those forced to use public transportation every day in a city built by people who value their vehicles like they value their own lives.

But, at least we can agree on one thing: Houston traffic sucks.

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Cover Story: Fighting for Control

Categories: Cover Story

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Buffalo Bayou has been a controversy that hits at the very heart of Houston for decades.

It all started in the 1960s, when a group of concerned citizens, mostly wealthy and well-connected, learned that the Harris County Flood Control District planned to cement and channelize a vein of Buffalo Bayou lined with forest that still snaked through Houston. The project was abandoned then, but now there's another project proposed by Harris County Flood Control, the Memorial Park Demonstration Project.

The Memorial Park Demonstration Project is being pitched by the folks at Harris County Flood Control District as a way to stop erosion and improve water quality, but some of the people who have worked for decades to preserve this section of Buffalo Bayou have their doubts.


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