Inmates earn construction, carpentry certificates
By Krissi Khokhobashvili, CDCR Public Information Officer
Office of Public and Employee Communications
Photos by Phyllis Guare, California Prison Industry Authority
The hard work of nearly 70 female offenders was celebrated May 26 as Folsom Women’s Facility (FWF) and the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) hosted a graduation for women who earned certificates in trades traditionally dominated by men.
“These programs with proven results are vital to the rehabilitation of offenders,” said CDCR Secretary and Prison Industry Board Chair Scott Kernan. “Offenders engaging in productive programs, education and job training while in prison are ultimately improving their lives for a successful transition into their communities.”
Sixty-seven women earned certificates in Pre-Apprentice Carpentry and Construction Labor, Customer Service Representative Training, Warehouse and Logistics Training, Facilities Maintenance and Computer-Aided Design. The Autodesk Authorized Training Center at Folsom Women’s Facility is the first and only center of its kind behind prison walls in the nation, where female offenders put in hundreds of hours learning complex computer-aided design. Several women who have completed the program and paroled are now working in the industry, including one who is now an engineer at an architectural firm.
“Today is truly a day of celebrating accomplishments,” FWF Associate Warden Tracy Johnson told the crowd assembled for the graduation. “The fact that you are here today being recognized for your accomplishments is an indicator that you’ve really made a positive choice in your life and you’re a much better person than you were when you first arrived at prison.”
The prospect of steady work and good pay are the reason Heather Hampton got involved with CALPIA, where she has earned certificates in every computer-aided design course offered at FWF.
“Before, it was basically about minimum wage,” she said. “I didn’t have a great deal of skills. This has really given me a skillset that puts me above that, so it will be a huge benefit for myself and my family.”
Chuck Pattillo, General Manager of CALPIA, reminded the graduates that even after they parole, CALPIA will continue to support them, including paying union dues for a year and purchasing a set of tools for women joining the construction industry.
“Look around – everyone here wants to help you succeed,” Pattillo said. “Keep that in mind. There is no reason for you to come back to prison.”
Through its Career Technical Education (CTE) program, CALPIA partners with trade unions to not only train offenders, but also assist them in finding jobs after prison. All three female institutions have these union partnerships. Doyle Radford, business manager and Secretary/Treasurer of Laborers Local 185, said many men and women who have gone through CALPIA’s programs are now in good-paying union jobs, including concrete, piping, asphalt, roadwork and construction. One male offender who left prison with CALPIA certificates under his belt is now working on the Folsom Dam. The Pre-Apprentice Construction Labor program has the lowest recidivism rate of CALPIA programs at 4.9 percent.
“Our success rate is phenomenal, and it’s because of the instructors we have and the ladies and gentlemen who want to make a career out of construction” said Radford, who was at the FWF event to both congratulate and network with the graduates. “It’s a win-win situation for us.”
Each person who spoke at the graduation discussed the importance of having hope, no matter the circumstances. California Inspector General Robert Barton said he was happy to speak at the graduation, because in his travels to prisons throughout the state he has seen that CALPIA programs give offenders not only job skills, but also hope and the motivation to succeed.
“I’m sure some of you have been at that point where you’ve felt hopeless,” Barton said. “But what I want you to know as you sit here today is you represent hope. Not just for yourself, but for your families, for your communities, and for society at large.”
“”What you’ve accomplished in getting these certificates and getting through these programs is living proof that success is possible,” he added. “You’ve made a choice to go beyond just hoping, to take a course of action and you’ve now fulfilled that course of action, and we as a society should learn from your example.”
That course of action wasn’t easy. Offenders in CALPIA programs put in hundreds of hours of classroom and hands-on training, and are held to the same standards as trainees outside of prison. But in the end, the hard work pays off.
Kelly Otero, who earned certificates in AutoCAD (computer-aided design), Autodesk Revit (structural design) and Autodesk Inventor (mechanical design), said that while the thought of diving into intense computer training can be daunting, CALPIA and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation have created an environment at FWF that encourages offenders to succeed.
“There is so much you can do to change your life, and that’s what we’re doing here,” Otero said. “This place is different from any other prison I’ve seen, and we care – and they care for us. So all you have to do is care, too.”