Inmate firefighter earns three college degrees at Conservation Camp

Steven Schnitter, in cap and gown on graduation day, is presented with his degrees and certificates by Correctional Sgt. Paul Linder.

Steven Schnitter, in cap and gown on graduation day, is presented with his degrees and certificates by Correctional Sgt. Paul Linder.

Credits rehabilitation programs, ‘strong desire’ to turn life around

By Sgt. Paul Linder, Assistant Camp Commander
Owens Valley Conservation Camp

At 43, Steven Schnitter found himself sentenced to a five-year prison term on a drug-related offense in 2011 but rather than give up, he decided to turn his life around.

Schnitter began to apply himself and work hard enough to qualify for placement in one of the state’s 44 fire camps, according to officials.

Schnitter arrived at the Owens Valley Conservation Camp located in the eastern Sierra on July 23, 2012, and worked two fire seasons on an inmate fire crew, fighting multiple fires throughout the state during the 2012 and 2013 fire seasons.

In December 2013, Schnitter was accepted as a trainee in the Camp’s Waste Water Treatment Program under the supervision of Cal-Fire Water and Sewer Plant Operator J. Tabush.

In the two years he worked in the program, Schnitter earned three state licenses – Waste Water Treatment Plant Operator Grade II, Water Treatment Operator Grade T2 and Water Distribution Operator Grade D2.

And, he did it all while being an instrumental part of operating the Camp’s Water and Waste Water treatment programs.

Schnitter also managed to utilize what spare time he had left in the day to earn three college degrees and one Certificate of Achievement from the Distance Learning Program of Coastline Community College in Fountain Valley. He earned an Associate of Arts (AA) in Social and Behavioral Science, an AA in Arts and Humanities and an Associate of Science Degree in General Business with a Certificate of Achievement in General Business.

During his two years and seven months at Owens Valley, Schnitter also assisted 11 other inmates in working toward their College education and facilitated the camp’s Pre-Release class multiple times.

“(I had) a strong desire to change my life,” Schnitter said. “It would have been much more difficult without the love and support of my parents, Terry and Carol Schnitter.”

Inmate Schnitter also wanted to give a special thanks to Chief Plant Operator J. Tabush for giving him the opportunity to be in the Water Treatment Program and Camp Commander J. Frohreich and Sgt. Paul Linder for the hours they spent proctoring his many College Exams.

Inmates who desire an education can earn up to a GED. Anything beyond the basic GED, according to officials, must be paid for by the inmate or the inmate’s family.

Steven Schnitter, through his hard work and efforts, has truly demonstrated that for those inmates who are willing to put in the time and effort, great things can be accomplished. Those with the facility say rehabilitation is alive and well in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

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11 Responses

  1. Hector Rodriguez Wednesday, March 4, 2015 / 2:02 pm

    I worked over 20 years in camp. I retired 13 years ago. This is the only program in the state where the taxpayer benefits from what they do.
    They save millions of dollars fighting fires within the state. We have many within the state. Thank you for all your service. — HR

  2. D. McGuire Tuesday, March 3, 2015 / 11:30 am

    I’ve always felt the camp program is a wonderful opportunity for inmates. It really gives inmates an opportunity to give back to others rather than take from others. I had the pleasure of working at CCC, which sends inmates out to the Northern camps. It was wonderful to see the progress several inmates were able to make. They saw themselves in a totally different light. Way to go, Owens Valley Conservation Camp staff. May Mr. Schnitter continue in his progress towards making and achieving great goals for himself while I’m sure making his parents proud!

  3. E Garcia Monday, March 2, 2015 / 9:38 am

    Congratulations to Mr. Schnitter and camp staff! He set a marvelous example for all of us. This is a solid proof that there’s hope at the end of the road. Best wishes for him, too.

  4. Jorge J. Santana Friday, February 27, 2015 / 10:17 am

    Excellent story and accomplishment, thank you Sgt. Linder for submitting it. It is success stories such as this that helps demonstrate the Conservation Camp program is one of the best rehabilitation programs in the CDCR. This shows what can be accomplished with staff that are willing to support a program and assist an inmate that is willing to improve and become a contributing member of society upon release.

  5. Catherine Acly Friday, February 27, 2015 / 9:05 am

    Congratulations to Mr. Schnitter! May you enjoy continued success on the streets! Keep up the great work. Thank you to Sgt. Linder, Lt. Froereich and all the staff at Owens Valley Conservation Camp for your continued support of educational opprtunities at your camp!

  6. Joy Friday, February 27, 2015 / 9:03 am

    It is always encouraging to see something positive come out of that which was meant to be unpleasant! Great work! Congratulations! This should motivate others to achieve and accomplish regardless of their circumstances.

  7. Richard J. Mohr Thursday, February 26, 2015 / 11:17 am

    What a terrific example! What can he do to start a bachelor’s degree in his remaining time?

  8. Sally Morrison Thursday, February 26, 2015 / 10:31 am

    More proof the “R” in “CDCR” is alive and well! Congrats not only to Mr. Schnitter but to the staff and officers who encourage this.

  9. Docrays Thursday, February 26, 2015 / 10:20 am

    Heart-warming story about turning one’s life around by 180 degrees. Would like to see more stories like this. Thank you.

  10. Estela Acosta Thursday, February 26, 2015 / 9:45 am

    Great choices to utilize free time for educational purpose. So awesome that Mr. Schnitter is motivating others by assisting them with setting goals to accomplish academic success as he did.

  11. Karen Almind Thursday, February 26, 2015 / 9:11 am

    Currently I am completing my Vocational Instructor classes to hopefully be a part of this type of success within CDCR. This is a wonderful article and would like to see more like this.

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