By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Photos by Manny Chavez, Senior Photographer, CALPIA

Deer wander through the grounds on a hilltop overlooking Folsom Lake, just feet from a classroom teaching female offenders how to better their chances of success post-release. Inside the small building at the Green Valley Training Center, instructor Brian Shamrock helps the students learn AutoCAD (computer aided design) for spatial planning, offered by California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA). The students all share something in common – they are incarcerated at Folsom Women’s Facility.

Two rooms in the building seat 48 students and Shamrock said they try to keep those seats filled for each three-month course. It’s the first the students need to complete before they move on to another three-month course of Inventor (advanced design software) followed by a six-month course on Revit (more advanced design software).

Recently, AutoCAD students designed new furniture for the production studio of CDCR’s Video Unit in Sacramento.

“We were given rough dimensions of the room itself with the intent to design some furniture to meet the criteria of the end-users,” Shamrock said. “We come up with a two-dimensional footprint for furniture placement and then (create) three-dimensional views of what it would look like.”

Those who go through the Revit program also earn college credits thanks to an agreement with Cosumnes River College.

To help equip offenders with tools for success, once the students have earned professional certification, they can also earn money while they finish their incarceration.

“They are hired to be teachers’ assistants to get more technical training,” Shamrock said.

CALPIA also provides them with contacts for job searches.

Milo Fitch, CALPIA assistant general manager and chief of workforce development, said the goal is to help the offenders learn in-demand job skills.

“There are projected to be one million job vacancies in technology by 2020,” Fitch said. “Last week, (a local solar company) hired one graduate and they have another interview lined up (with a graduate). These are jobs that pay a decent wage to sustain themselves and their families. All our programs here at CALPIA are focused on that.”

Shamrock said there are plenty of success stories from graduates.

“We’ve had some go to work for solar companies, an architectural firm in upstate New York and engineering firms,” he said.

While some offenders thrive in the technological environment, not all of them are passionate about such work.

“Not all students have an aptitude for tech programs, so we teach those students iron working, roofing, carpentry and construction labor,” Fitch said. “The programs are partnered with trade unions, allowing them to receive certification in those trades. We pay their first-year union dues and we also buy them hand tools. … We also entered into agreements this year with the U.S. Department of Labor and the California Department of Apprenticeship Standards.”

Fitch said they also offer Joint Venture and Free Venture programs.

“The beauty of the Joint Venture is they are earning a comparable wage as if they were (outside) and that goes into savings so they have a better chance to succeed post-release,” he said.

Hope and help inside

Rather than wallow in self-pity and give up, Justine Romero said she opted to take part in rehabilitative programs offered by Folsom Women’s Facility and CALPIA.

“I got here in January,” she said. “I’ve received certificates in all three (design courses) and was class valedictorian for my GED (general education diploma). … I’ve never really done anything like this. I like it and really enjoy it. My daughter was able to come to my GED graduation. It’s really important to show her even though I made a mistake, I didn’t give up while I was here.”

She said her daughter jokes about getting her mother to design an all-glass house.

“Yeah, she has expensive tastes,” Romero laughed.

Jennifer Davis is undertaking a project requested by the Department of General Services and Fitch was impressed by her work.

“About a month ago they asked us to draft all of their buildings,” Fitch said. “We are able to re-draw them in the program. This also allows us to market our furniture (to other government agencies).”

Davis proudly displayed her work on a high-rise building for Fitch and others to see. The atmosphere in the class, as well as outside the building, is about promoting second chances.

Students said being able to leave FWF to attend classes is refreshing.

“It’s a wonderful escape,” Romero said. “If I could work up here seven days a week, I would. It’s peaceful up here.”