By Terri Hardy, PIO II
CDCR Office of Public and Employee Communications
Photos by Manny Chavez, CALPIA Senior Photographer

Jeremy Moose swore he would never return to California. He vowed he’d never go back to prison.

Yet here he was, coming through the front door of the California Institution for Men (CIM) in Chino. This time without handcuffs. This time, a success story.

A former inmate who paroled in 2012, Moose returned on Dec. 5 as a graduate of the facility’s renowned dive training program to celebrate its re-dedication after two years of renovation.

The Leonard Greenstone Memorial Marine Technology Training Center certifies inmates in commercial diving and underwater welding. It offered Moose and hundreds of others like him the chance to change their life trajectory through high-paying jobs available when they are released. Less than 7 percent of the inmates who graduate from the program reoffend.

Before a crowd of dignitaries and 22 current students, Moose described how he began working as a welder in Texas within days of leaving CIM. He would eventually go on to jobs as a diver and an instructor. Now he works for a national firm recruiting skilled trades employees.

“I got all of that from this school. I owe it all to what I learned here,” Moose said. “The school gave me the attitude to succeed, the drive to be better and the skills to make that happen.”

CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz described the program as “like no other in the nation.”

Diaz acknowledged the program wasn’t for everyone  but told the current class that the benefits would be there at the end.  “Each dive, each job, every stroke of the hammer that you provide you build a new man inside of you.”

The dive program is operated through the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA), a self-supporting business that supports a wide variety of work and training opportunities within CDCR. Charles Patillo, general manager of CALPIA, said his organization spent nearly $500,000 on an extensive remodel of the facility, including a new classroom, floors and heating and air conditioning system.  “This program will continue to be the leader in the field,” Patillo said.

The course is conducted by former U.S. Navy divers and it equals or bests any training in the country, officials said. Grueling and challenging doesn’t fully describe the 11 to 18 months of multiple-mile runs, long swim sets, scuba instruction and welding in deep, murky tanks required to complete the program. Academically, inmates learn a multitude of skills including physics, physiology, welding and cutting, seamanship, and navigation. About 85 percent of the students drop out before completion.

CALPIA’s Commercial Diving program through the Marine Technology Training Center (MTTC) is an 11-18 month commercial diving and underwater welding offender training program under the supervision of Journeyman Commercial Diver Instructors and U.S. Navy Reserve members. The MTTC program provides training in diverse skills including diving physics, physiology, dive medicine, proper tool handling, blueprint reading, navigation, report writing, air systems, welding and cutting, compressors, seamanship, diesel engines, power plants, pump houses, pneumatic tools, rigging and marine construction. MTTC graduates earn possible milestone credits and accredited certifications that meet the standards required by the U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Association of Diving Contractors International.

Job placement is available upon parole.Potential applicants should have low medical risk and be able to handle the physical and mental demands, said Jonathan Quatman, a CIM correctional counselor.

Motivation and perseverance are key. Some of the men don’t have more than a seventh-grade education and some come to the program without good swim skills. “If they are willing to do it, if they stick with it, we don’t leave anyone behind,” said Jeff Powers, a retired senior chief from the U.S. Navy who serves as the program’s lead dive instructor.

Graduates can earn accredited certificates that meet standards required by the Association of Diving Contractors International (ADCI), the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Work is plentiful and includes underwater construction, dam repair and underwater salvage and recovery.

Phil Newsum, executive director for the ADCI said, “This is the best second-chance industry in the world. It doesn’t matter where you came from or what you did. It’s what you bring to the table once you get out. “

The training center bears the name of Leonard Greenstone, a decorated diver for the U.S. Navy who was appointed by Gov. Pat Brown in 1961 to serve on the state’s prison industries board. Greenstone pushed for the creation of a dive program; first by donating scuba gear and then securing federal funding for the first year of CIM’s training program. In June 2011 Governor Jerry Brown commended Greenstone for the longest span of volunteer service in CDCR history – 50 years.

“Leonard believed that people who make mistakes early in life could overcome those issues if we could just give them employment,” said Dean Borders, warden for CIM.

A future success story may be Vincent Wright, a CIM inmate who donned scuba gear at the celebration ceremony and demonstrated underwater diving work in the facility pool. He completed the program and works as an assistant instructor as he looks forward to his release from prison in 2020.

Wright said he struggled to find a meaningful rehabilitation path before coming to the dive center. The program seemed daunting, but he pushed himself forward in the early days. “I realized if I don’t step up now, what will I do? Who will provide for my family? Anything worth having is not going to be easy.”

Beyond the technical skills, Wright said he never expected the impact the program’s tenets of camaraderie, responsibility and integrity would have on him. “It’s inspired me to be somebody else,” Wright added.

When he’s released, there are five job offers waiting for him.