By Aly Tamboura
The men had assembled a stage in an old industrial prison warehouse and proudly stood on its steps when they received certificates for completing the Career
Technical Education (CTE) Construction Laborers Course. The program gives incarcerated men job skills aimed toward landing them employment upon completion of their prison terms.
The nine graduates participated in a six-month program that teaches prisoners OSHA safety and construction procedures, with a focus on concrete technology, according to the instructor, Greg Venegas.
“Sometimes it’s a challenge to get the men to recognize the importance of what they are learning. The program is connecting them to a good future,” said Venegas, who has been instructing the class since February.
In addition to providing job training, the graduates also gain an expense-paid entrance into L.I.U.N.A Laborers International, a year’s paid dues, along with a set of hand tools — all ofwhich are provided by CTE at no expense to the graduates.
“I’ve been in the construction trades most of my life,” said one of the graduates, Phil Budweiser. He acknowledged the benefi ts of being in the laborers’ union, which offers workers health, dental and retirement benefits.
The program is part of the California Prison Industry Authority’s (PIA) commitment to reduce California’s recidivism rate, which is currently 54.3 percent, due partly to innovative employment training programs.
“This program has a 7.1 percentrecidivism rate, which is the lowest in the nation,” Rusty Bechtold, an administrator with PIA Workforce Development Branch, told the graduates.
The program’s significant reduction in recidivism is congruous with another impressive fact: The program is active in 14 California prisons, with 70 percent of the participants being women.
Despite construction labor being a male-dominated profession, graduate Lucious Jackson remarked, “I have learned to receive instruction from a supervisor and how to get along with co-workers from all walks of life as we worked together to meet the same goal: to successfully complete the project.”
One of the class projects was building forms and pouring small practice squares of concrete adjacent to the warehouse, which provided the men practice in concrete fi nishing. The Nine Men Complete CTE Course To Prep Them for Jobs After Parole graduates also refurbished the old San Quentin printing shop, transforming it into a modern computer coding class that is another innovative project taken on by PIA/CTE to prepare prisoners for employment.
The laborers’ program began eight years ago when PIA began building modular buildings and decided to train prisoners to pour concrete slab foundations and install the buildings. This led to a partnership with the labor union, which assisted in training prisoners in construction, according to Bechtold.
The next recently approved project for the program participants will be removing and replacing a large swath of concrete in front of the computer coding classroom, according to Venegas.
Indeed, there is no shortage of opportunities for the program with San Quentin’s aging infrastructure needing many upgrades and repairs.
Those who are interested in participation can request a job application from PIA and submit it to Mr. Laredo. The criteria for entering the program are possessing a high school diploma or GED and a parole date.