Prisoners Close to Parole Meeting Employers

By Tommy Bryant and Kevin D. Sawyer

Twenty-five prisoners got an up-close look at employment opportunities they might encounter upon release from San Quentin during the prison’s second Employment Readiness Seminar.

Thirteen businesses and organizations attended the December event that doubled as a Job Fair.

As the evening began, there was a hint of nervousness from both employers and inmates. When resumes were presented and interviews started taking place, it did not take long for the room to buzz with excitement as connections were made and possibilities for the future became brighter.

“I have not yet been able to fully put into words the magnitude of humanity and hope I took away from the men,” said a represented from the Glaziers’ Union, District Council 16 in an email. “There were definitely some great candidates for our programs.”

“This is an excellent program for those who are preparing to return to society,” said Isiah Fields who recently earned an A.A. degree from Patten College

Prior to the Job Fair, prisoners spent six weeks attending Employment Readiness Seminars. During the seminars’ orientation, the men were given an overview of the curriculum and a detailed picture of what was expected of them.

“The Employment Readiness Seminar program is here to take some of the worry away by giving inmates job-planning skills to use upon release,” said Diana Williams, a volunteer instructor who taught the course. “It runs on the premise that everyone wants a job.”

The first and second sessions helped inmates identify what kinds of things they like to do. The next three classes turned to the business of writing resumes, cover letters, identifying transferable skills and exploring how and where to look for work.

Volunteers from the California Re-Entry Program joined the seminars to offer one-to-one assistance with resume-writing.

“In order to meet employers in person and receive a certificate of completion, (the men) must attend all the sessions,” said Williams.

The men work hard in anticipation of meeting employers. In one of the final sessions, they practice interviewing. An essential element of this process is for them to learn how to talk about their commitment offense with an employer, which involves accepting responsibility for their crime.

“I encourage the men to consider who they are and what they like to do by using the Holland Interest Inventory,” said Williams. “Each of us has something unique to offer the world and I love exploring this idea with the inmates.”

Many inmates were surprised at the number of employers and volunteers who cared enough to attend the job fair, and many volunteers left the prison filled with enthusiasm.

“It exceeded my expectations and has turned out to be one of the best programs I’ve participated in,” said inmate D.D. Coleman who has been incarcerated 27 years. “I was able to polish my skills while creating a competent resume. I was unbelievably inspired by all the employers, parole officers and consultants.”

“My experience was truly amazing,” said a representative with Social Imprints. “Programs like the Employment Readiness Seminar are vital to helping men being released on parole move in a positive direction.”

In the final weeks leading up to the Job Fair, the men formed small groups to review and critique resumes and applications. They also learned how and where to look for employment with ex-offender-friendly businesses.

Several employers attended the Job Fair for a second time to interview inmates as prospects for jobs once they are released on parole.

The idea for the program was sparked by San Quentin inmate Noble Butler, who said he is committed to creating job opportunities for inmates upon re-entry.

Williams has been volunteering at San Quentin for two years with California Re-entry Institute and TRUST (Teaching Responsibility Utilizing Sociological Training). She holds an M.A. in Counseling Psychology and is a Certified Professional Co-active Coach.

The next Employment Readiness Seminar is scheduled to take place in March. Williams said inmates in H-Unit are encouraged to sign up.

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