Offenders take steps toward success at Folsom Women’s Facility

Folsom Women’s Facility Warden Ron Rackley congratulates the graduates on their accomplishments.

Folsom Women’s Facility Warden Ron Rackley congratulates the graduates on their accomplishments.

CALPIA hosts graduation for 70 females earning certifications

By Krissi Khokhobashvili, CDCR Public Information Officer
Photos by Alan Barrett, CALPIA Photographer

The hard work of nearly 70 women was celebrated recently as the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) hosted a graduation for offenders at Folsom Women’s Facility (FWF).

These women are enrolled in CALPIA’s Career Technical Education programs, which provide real-world training and certifications that enable offenders to find good jobs when they return home. This group of graduates earned certifications in Pre-Apprentice Carpentry, Pre-Apprentice Construction Labor, Healthcare Facilities Maintenance, Customer Service Representative Training, Warehouse and Logistics Training and Computer-Aided Design (CAD).

Offender Amanda Barber said completing the CAD certification is “the opportunity of a lifetime.” She hadn’t touched a computer in 14 years, so entering this high-tech world was a challenge. CAD is used in engineering to create models and drawings of physical components, such as mechanical parts, but has also expanded to include 3D renderings and animation.

Folsom Women’s Facility Warden Ron Rackley congratulates the graduates on their accomplishments.

Folsom Women’s Facility Warden Ron Rackley congratulates the graduates on their accomplishments.

“I didn’t want to leave empty-handed, and this seems like the best that’s offered,” Barber said. “I’m looking for something, after 14 years, that I’ll be able to re-enter society with. These are marketable skills.”

Chuck Pattillo, General Manager of CALPIA, congratulated the graduates on their accomplishments. In partnership with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), CALPIA provides employment and vocational training at prisons throughout the state. Offenders who complete a Career Technical Education program are significantly less likely to return to prison than those who leave prison without any rehabilitative program experience.

“Our number one product is not a license plate, it’s not eyeglasses – it’s an offender who doesn’t come back to prison,” Pattillo said, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Roy Borgersen, a CALPIA construction labor instructor from the Laborers Local 185 labor union, said that in order to earn their certificates, women under his instruction had to learn how to pour concrete, operate a jackhammer and Bobcat, and complete forklift training, among a host of other construction skills. The result of that hard work, he said, is training recognized by the union that has already helped CALPIA graduates find good-paying, steady work after they parole. He said one woman works full-time at the Folsom Dam, while another worked on the new Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers.

Contrary to stereotypes about the construction industry, he noted, women make great manual laborers.

“They’re neater – it’s got to be right,” he explained. “They’re very meticulous, they work as a team, and they help one another.”

SEIU Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker inspired the graduates to continue moving in a positive direction.

SEIU Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker inspired the graduates to continue moving in a positive direction.

Yvonne Walker, president of SEIU Local 1000, was the keynote speaker for the graduation. She gave the women advice for their futures, including to journal their struggles and accomplishments, reconnect with their families, and make time each day to laugh.

“It’s not always going to be easy, because people are going to remember who you were, but what I need you to remember is who you are,” Walker said.

Warden Ron Rackley echoed those sentiments as he congratulated the women on their accomplishment, adding that it is no small feat to get an education and vocational training while incarcerated. They’ve taken the first step toward success, he said, and now it’s up to them to make the decision to continue down the right path.

“Look back on your past, not to dwell on failures, but to learn from them,” he said. “I ask today that you look forward. Look ahead and envision success, and if you can do that I think you’re going to have very positive outcomes.”

Irene Harrison beamed as she accepted her certification in Customer Service Representative Training. She had office experience before coming to prison, but through CALPIA she was able to learn the finer points of the industry, both from a logistical standpoint and in terms of successfully dealing with people.

“It feels good,” she said. “It always feels good to accomplish something, especially here. It’s not like you’re just letting the time do you. You’re taking care of yourself and improving yourself while you’re doing the time.”

Walker reminded the women that while there will be setbacks and moments of self-doubt, each woman has proven she is capable of success.

“You have started the most important step possible on your journey. I am very excited to see where this journey is going to lead you,” she said. “You have no limits, you have no bounds. You women are clearly an inspiration.”

CALPIA General Manager Chuck Pattillo discusses Career Technical Education programs with reporter Lonnie Wong.

CALPIA General Manager Chuck Pattillo discusses Career Technical Education programs with reporter Lonnie Wong.

What is CALPIA?

CALPIA trains approximately 8,000 offenders each year in service, manufacturing and agricultural industries in California’s penal institutions. CALPIA is self-supporting and does not receive an appropriation from the state budget. CALPIA participants are returned to prison, on average, 26-38 percent less often than offenders released from the state prison system’s general population.

Learn more about PIA at pia.ca.gov.

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