By Juan Haines
“I never thought I’d be trying to get into prison,” said Titan Gilroy, speaking to an audience of inmates at San Quentin State Prison on Nov. 19, 2015.
“I know what it’s like to be in a lockdown cell for six months,” Gilroy continued. “I know what it feels like to think that nobody can truly look into my world and understand.”
Once an inmate, Gilroy is now the owner of a precision machine shop called Titan America MFG.
Since opening 10 years ago, Gilroy’s business has exploded and is giving new life to local manufacturing. His success has landed him a reality show called TITAN—American Built, on MAVTV, which features programs about businesses helping to revive the American manufacturing industry.
Now Gilroy — who has never forgotten his time in prison — is extending an opportunity to inmates by bringing a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine shop to San Quentin.
“All I’ve been told is that the inmates at San Quentin are different. They want to learn,” said Gilroy. “I’ve not heard one negative thing about you guys since I’ve been here.”
Gilroy envisions establishing an accelerated six-month training program for inmates to learn CNC skills. The program is scheduled to accept its first 27 students in January 2016.
Brant Choate, the CDCR acting director of Rehabilitative Programs, said the proposed training supports CDCR’s expectation that inmates be prepared to reenter mainstream society. “You need to prepare for reentry the day you come to prison,” he said. He reported he has met with the Board of Parole Hearings personnel about the program.
“They want to see people who have a long history of programs, who are taking their rehabilitation seriously and are changing their lives for the better,” Choate said.
Gilroy’s own path from inmate to manufacturing Titan was circuitous. As a child, Gilroy moved to 20 different cities before the fourth grade. His mother — seeking refuge from an abusive relationship — eventually settled the family in Hawaii, where they became homeless, despite her steady employment.
At 18, Gilroy was a talented boxer who signed a contract with Top Rank Boxing. Hopes for a career in the ring were derailed when he became embroiled in a nightclub brawl that landed him a 16-year prison sentence, in which he served only three years because of good behavior.
The turning point in Gilroy’s life came during a prison lockdown when his cellie stopped talking to him and eventually committed suicide. Distraught and lonely, Gilroy began rethinking his lifestyle.
Upon release, Gilroy returned to boxing, landing contracts and fights. But escalating tensions with a neighbor led to a confrontation that involved police. Though Gilroy was able to avoid another stint in prison, he felt traumatized enough to leave Hawaii and soon moved his family to California. Once there, he took a job as a saw operator. Within months, he had gotten a pay raise and seized an opportunity to learn Computer Numerical Control.
“I just fell in love with it,” Gilroy said. Once he learned how to program the machines, he figured out how to streamline jobs, saving the company untold sums — landing him a pay increase from $9 to $28 an hour.
“When I went to prison, I had this negative aggressiveness that was leading me to destruction,” said Gilroy, who has learned to channel his aggression into his work. “I take what used to be a negative and I drive it into manufacturing, and I take risks, and at the end of the day, I have billion-dollar companies that love me because I solve big people’s problems. I have such a belief in myself. I’m still the same guy. I just found my path.”
Gilroy said teaching inmates CNC allows him “to take something that has an awesome foundation, to have the opportunity to take people who have lived in darkness, that made mistakes, and give them the same opportunity that was given to me. That’s an incredible honor.”
– Bonnie Chan contributed to this story.