Dominguez State Jail hosts Employment and Service Provider event
An Employment and Service Provider event this year was a call to action across the public and private sectors and local and federal governments to unite efforts in transitioning soon-to-be released offenders towards employability and world-readiness.
"Many offenders believe that a two-year sentence is like a life sentence and that no one will hire them as an ex-felon. This program was invented to refute that idea," said Owen Kelly, Windham School District (WSD) principal at Dominguez State Jail.
The second such event was in March at Dominguez State Jail, a measure by Windham School District recognizing an urgent need for offenders to be matched with necessary resources in the community for future success. Soon-to-be released offenders met a variety of resource representatives inside prison walls.
"The aim is to not only educate our students with regard to employment and support services that are available, but also to give them hope," Kelly said.
Wardens Martinez and Castro, and WSD principal Owen Kelly and counselor Gary Griffin coordinated the event, which included 40 community leaders representing 19 agencies and businesses. They gathered in the Dominguez school to deliver a series of positive presentations to offenders. Each speaker had a unique perspective to share, as well as instructional wisdom to impart. They presented timely information, including furthering employment opportunities, health care, education, mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, transportation, child care and goal orientation. Approximately 400 offenders attended the event. Ten classrooms were used, and speakers rotated every 45 minutes to give presentations.
"At these events, groups provide information about their services or the nature of their businesses. Brochures are handed out and Power Point presentations are shown for explanations. This makes the students aware of the services the groups provide and makes connections that will facilitate offender transition back into the community," Kelly said.
The events are a joint enterprise between WSD, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), outside corporate entities and private citizens. Organizations get involved through a series of dialogues with WSD staff who explain the intent and purpose of the event.
Participants in the second event included: Navarro Project, San Antonio Parole Department personnel, Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), GI Forum, San Antonio Fatherhood Campaign, San Antonio Foodbank, Goodwill (San Antonio area), Haven for Hope, Dress for Success, San Antonio Reentry Council, San Antonio Fighting Back, All of Us or None, San Antonio Council for Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Bill Fletcher, Workforce Solutions, and others. Six of the 19 freeworld participants were represented by ex-offenders.
Presenters gave insight into the day-to-day realities of the competitive work environment for offenders who are about to re-enter society but have not yet participated in the modern work force.
"While incarcerated, you have to learn how to recognize your strengths and develop them fully. For instance, what have you learned at the jobs you have held while in prison? What types of social dynamics have you adopted?" asked R. Minor of the Navarro Project, which offers services for ex-offenders and other disadvantaged participants.
"There are skills an offender learns on a daily basis, which they may overlook or take for granted, which can and do have real-world applications," Minor said.
Other presentations were a "behind the scenes" look at how to actually make it in today’s rapidly changing world. Speakers provided offenders with an idea of the types of knowledge and skills they need in order to connect with the changing currents in the workforce and the fundamental steps they must take to reach their particular objectives.
"An excellent place to start is by mapping your goals. Write them out so they are clear and lucid, and learn to leverage your skills in new and creative ways," said Robyn Cartmill, owner of several Dallas-area businesses and a former offender. "Don’t become just another character in the revolving door story. You have to alter your thought process. Get out and stay out," she said.
A standout among the speakers was Willie Mitchell, president and CEO of multiple San Antonio-based businesses, as well as a Super Bowl IV champ and former defensive back for the Kansas City Chiefs.
"Do you want to sit on the sidelines all your life? Are you comfortable sitting here in prison, warming the bench? You need to learn how to execute the plays that will help you score the opportunities that will bring you a successful career," Mitchell said. "It’s easier said than done; it’s easier to walk away than tackle your challenges head on. But that is exactly what each and every one of you have to do to make it in today’s world."
As a result of the event, many of the presenters have become much more interested in the offenders and their circumstances, according to Kelly.
"Some have even become approved volunteers," he said.
The Employment and Service Provider Event is fast becoming "a laboratory of positive social change." Events have been held at Lopez State Jail and Garza West. According to Kelly, future events are being planned for other units. A third event of this kind for Dominguez State Jail is scheduled to take place this fall.
"The long-term goal of the event is to develop an individual treatment plan for offenders that is personalized and will give them the ability to connect names and faces to organizations and employers," Kelly said. "The Employment and Service Provider event is a win-win-win situation for offenders, the WSD, and the community."
WSD Superintendent Dr. Clint Carpenter said WSD’s partner role with TDCJ requires attention to what happens to offenders after release.
"While our function is targeting vocational, academic and cognitive decision making skills, a significant piece of our partnership with TDCJ is instilling a capacity for success in our students," he said. "These employment/provider events help students connect skills to income earning opportunities. The impact on the participating students and their enthusiasm is dramatic and measurable."
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BY NICOLE WILCOX
Published September 2, 2015
Reprinted courtesy of The Navasota Examiner
Reporter Nicole Wilcox of the Navasota Examiner recently visited the Luther Unit for a first-hand look at Windham School District and how correctional education is helping offenders prepare for a successful life after release. Her positive report is shared below, courtesy of The Navasota Examiner.
Most residents can recall four school districts within the county - Navasota, Anderson-Shiro, Iola and Richards – but there are actually five fully operational districts in our community.
Often forgotten about, the teachers of the Windham School District don’t have bus duty, lunch duty or parent conferences. What they do have is a school surrounded by security fencing and guard towers.
The Windham School District operates within 89 different Texas Department of Criminal Justice units, including both the Luther and Pack units in Navasota. The school district’s goals, as stated by Texas Education Code 19.003, are to reduce the odds of relapse and the cost of confinement or imprisonment, increase the success of former inmates in obtaining and maintaining employment, and provide an incentive for inmates to behave in positive ways during confinement or imprisonment.
An individualized treatment plan is created for each offender, taking into account age, program availability, projected release date and varying needs of the offender. To accommodate those needs, the school district has different sections, including literacy and GED programs, career and technical education programs, and life skills programs.
“We are trying to put you in contact with jobs that will change your life,” Windham School District Superintendent Dr. Clint Carpenter said last week to a group of offenders in the vocational program of the Luther Unit.
The latest reports from the 2013-14 school year show 59,678 offenders statewide received WSD educational services. Of these offenders, 66 percent were able to attain a GED or high school diploma or showed significant gains in educational achievements. In addition to normal education classes, Windham offers offenders cognitive intervention and CHANGES programs designed to change the way they handle situations to prevent criminal behavior. CHANGES is an acronym for changing habits and achieving new goals to empower success.
“I really believe in this program,” said CHANGES teacher Victoria Koehn. “Most of them really want to change but don’t know how. When the environment is right, they really open up.”
Those entered into CHANGES are within two years of getting out of the system. It is a 14-week program that includes role- playing scenarios and a seven-step system of behavior awareness that includes saying no to drugs, civic responsibility, healthy relationship development, apologies and amends, job interview skills and being open to change.
“The healthy relationship development is a big deal,” said Koehn. “Research shows that one good relationship is enough of a motivator to stay free.”
If an offender has obtained a GED or high school diploma, they are eligible for vocational or college courses. Within the Luther Unit, a few of these courses include electrical, welding and computerized numerical computation. The computerized numerical control course deals with machining fabrication. The majority of fabrication and machining shops in the industry are moving to computerization because the machines are capable of being accurate to within 1/10000 of an inch.
“The majority of these guys are at 250 hours right now and can do the majority of the machine’s programming,” said instructor Mike Klodginksi.
The participating offenders in the computerized numerical computation course will be eligible for entry- level industry certification when they complete the minimum 600 hours of coursework and can opt for an additional 300 hours of advancement.
Electrical instructor Frank Goodman has simulated a work environment within his classroom with each student having an independent stall and project board. He is a firm believer in peer tutoring and teaches students that intrinsic motivation is self-motivation.
“I see my son in each of my students,” said Goodman. “I just want you to get paid for your knowledge.”
Like the majority of the WSD vocational classes, Goodman’s electrical course is six to nine months long, and the students are eligible for first or second year apprenticeship depending on the time put into the training.
“This was a blessing for me. I had an apprentice license before I was incarcerated. I had the opportunity to go to school, but I wouldn’t do it. This made me come to school and work on becoming a journeyman. I have an opportunity to go back to work with LECS and work for them. I am retaining the info I knew when I was working,” said offender Antonio Rivera Camacho.
Everyone within WSD has a story. An overwhelming majority of the inmates talk about their families as motivation for participating. For the instructors and administrators, it is often a calling that differs from the course of their previous life.
Welding instructor Van Campbell was a 20-year member of the ironworkers union in Cincinnati before the birth of his first grandchild made him and his wife move to Texas. When asked if he would encourage anyone else to follow in his footsteps, Campbell replied, “As a teacher, yes! It is very gratifying. I’d hire any one of these guys when they leave my class.”
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