By Dana Simas, CDCR Public Information Officer
Sanders send paint dust into the air and the sound of shaping metal screams as inmates repair a dented bumper in the warehouse in the back of Sierra Conservation Center (SCC)
This is the vocational auto body and repair program where, for the last seven years, instructor Rick Garza has helped hundreds of inmates turn their lives around and build a future for when they’re no longer behind bars.
Mr. Garza’s auto body repair program teaches inmates how to repair structural damages and suspensions, detail interiors and exteriors, and painting. The program is one of the institution’s most promising vocational programs where inmates have the potential to earn $15 to $35 per hour immediately after their release.
For every inmate who is released and gets a job, the savings to the state taxpayers is huge. The benefit of helping a person become a productive member of society is incalculable.
“I’m actually getting something that I can actually take home to be able to do on the streets,” one inmate said.
The program takes approximately two years to complete with the ultimate goal of receiving nationally-recognized ASE certifications in detail painting, structural repair, non-structural repair, mechanical work, and estimation.
One inmate who has been incarcerated for three years has obtained four of the ASE certifications. The inmate hopes to be able to put those to use when he is released in the next year.
If you can’t view this video on CDCR’s YouTube channel, here is a version that will run on Windows Media Player:
For practice projects, the inmates work on cars, fire trucks, boats, buses, and any other projects presented to them. Inmates in the program even worked on vehicles from Ripon Police Department.
“They’ll have a trade when they get home,” Mr. Garza said. “It’s a better future for them than when they got here.”
Mr. Garza works hands-on alongside the inmates, guiding them each step of the way. The program is open-entry, meaning inmates enter the program on a continuous basis as spots open up.
Mr. Garza said despite the staggered beginnings the inmates help each other and that is an accomplishment of its own.
“There’s a lot of trust involved, but (the inmates) tend to keep the prison politics outside of here,” Mr. Garza said.
Inmates study and work at the warehouse Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and inventory of the materials and tools is taken at least three times a day. Attendance is also mandatory in order to stay in the program.
“You have to find motivation for these guys,” Mr. Garza said. “If you can encourage them and show you’re proud when they finish a project, some may have never even had that before.”
To help inmates with their transition back into society the program targets inmates with 48 months or less remaining in their sentences.
“I like watching (the inmates) excel,” Mr. Garza said. “Guys who could barely read and then to see their attitudes change.”
Most of the inmates plan on using the auto body program as a stepping stone for improving not only their lives after prison but also the lives of their loved ones.
“With what I’ve learned, I feel confident enough to go out and run my own body shop. Whether it takes me 10-15 years, I plan on getting my own shop,” an inmate said.
“It gives me the incentive to be able to go out and live a positive life and be a productive member of society instead of being involved in crime,” another said. “Now, I have a way to support my family and kids and make sure they’re taken care of through a legal means.”
Here are links to previous articles, videos and photo galleries about CDCR’s extensvie and successful rehabilitative programs: