Building construction skills to transition from corrections into better lives

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Columbia River Correctional Institution grads

Columbia River Correctional Institution graduates prepare for the completion ceremony.

Recently, Portland Community College and Columbia River Correctional Institution (CRCI) hosted the first-ever celebration with friends and family of a 14-student cohort graduating with a Pre-Trades Construction Career Pathway Certificate of Completion. The students in custody, who often feel overlooked, were exceptionally grateful for this rare opportunity to prepare for brighter futures.

Since CRCI is a releasing facility, where those in custody are there for as little as two months to three years, this means trades skills courses are usually not offered, whereas they are at longer-term facilities. Since fall, PCC has been offering the 15-credit program at CRCI that has been funded by a $434,995 Future Ready Oregon and Bureau of Labor and Industries grant. It is real, credentialed workforce training that helps to reduce recidivism. The adults in custody hail from all parts of the state – rural to metropolitan communities.

“At 18, I went in. I’d never gotten past the sixth grade and never worked. It’s my fifth time in prison and this is the first real opportunity I’ve had,“ said Leeray Williams, who is looking forward to his release next spring when he intends to do a four-year apprenticeship to become a journeyman crane operator.

Leeray Williams

Leeray Williams.

PCC Pathways to Opportunity Program Dean Jaime Clarke is proud of the fast-track program designed for these students, introducing them to the trades and helping to build skills to advance careers and income upon release. She said the pre-trades options are the perfect fit for those who do not have a lot of experience.

“Prison not only made me grow up, it showed me what my priorities are,” said Marshawn Clisby, who will be released this fall. “I don’t want folks to say ‘no’ when I apply for construction jobs. I’ve been locked up 12 years, since I was 16 and kicked-out of Reynolds High School for dumb stuff I did. But I loved shop class and working with my hands. I cannot wait to get a job, a driver’s license and a bank account to take my mama to dinner.”

These students study in an onsite mobile classroom built for electrical and carpentry basics, and will be prepared to apply for an approved apprenticeship program following completion. Plus, they have been given essentials, such as career coaching, work boots and their own tools and tool belts. They also received First Aid/CPR training and earned OSHA 30 cards to prepare these future-workers to avoid workplace safety and health risks. The grant has prepared and incentivized these students to be work-ready upon their release.

“I feel good. Today we heard a motivational speaker, who was formerly incarcerated and they told us that “the barriers are all in our heads,” said Andres Garcia-Moncada, who wants to pursue a new stable and long-term career that is “not in fast food but carpentry instead.”

Andreas Garcia-Moncada

Andreas Garcia-Moncada.

PCC in partnership with CRCI are creating new educational opportunities for adults in custody. By encouraging enrollment into PCC’s workforce training program and forming connections with PCC’s Career Pathways & STEP program, PCC is providing needed career coaching, and staff assist students with their first-ever resumes and “real job” search activities.

“I spent about 20 years in finish carpentry and framing before,” said Robert Stewart, who enjoys helping others in the program. “I’ll be returning after five years. So, I’ve been re-honing my skills. But I’ve now learned about electrical fundamentals and circuits. I want three things in my future: employment, housing and to keep my sobriety.”

The career coaching presentations and workshops are lifting these incarcerated students, who are hopeful of finding support post release as they continue on their education and workforce journey. Many students who are releasing next year are now completing applications for scholarships like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to continue their education.

Sarah Mooney

Sarah Mooney.

PCC Corrections Education Transitions Manager Sarah Mooney said, “We are here to empower people in the community who are often overlooked. I enjoy working in a corrections environment, and I knew this was the work I was supposed to be doing.”

The college’s Corrections Education Department serves students within the PCC service district: Coffee Creek Correctional Facility (medium and minimum and only women’s prison in the state), Columbia River and South Fork Forest Camp in Tillamook. The department delivers non-credit ABE/GED instruction, work-based learning, and supports emerging college credit coursework to help break the cycle of incarceration.

About Misty Bouse

A Portland Community College public relations program specialist, Misty Bouse has been working in college advancement for more than eight years. A graduate of University of Oregon, Misty has worked as a managing editor for BUILDERNews Magaz... more »