WSD - Windham School District
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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