Titans of CNC Academy offers marketable skills to prisoners

Wearing a T-shirt with Titans of CNC on its front and, in large bold letters, Made in the USA on the back, Titan Gilroy says he is on a quest to “bring jobs back to America.

Gilroy’s quest began by connecting with his spirituality while sitting in solitude, in prison.

A vocational student setting up a work piece for machining

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, of which he served only three years because of good behavior.

After being released, he faced a problem many offenders returning to the community face—finding employment.

His first gig was as a machinist paid $9 an hour. It was not enough to support his family. Motivated by a serious work ethic, he developed new machining techniques for the shop. His pay quickly shot up to $14 an hour; a meager raise compared to the increase in company profits generated by his new techniques. Gilroy’s ingenuity inspired him to start his own company in 2005.

He attributes his success in building a multi-million dollar company to his faith in God. He combined innovative machining techniques with the ability to communicate to both government and corporate America an understanding of the challenges parolees face in finding employment.

Titans of CNC Academy’s Main floor at San Quentin’s Maintenance Vocational Building

Gilroy noticed that a lot of machining jobs were being out-sourced to other countries.

He knew that part of his plan— helping incarcerated people develop well-paying jobs skills— would bring jobs back to America.

Titan America in Rocklin teamed up with California prison officials and industry experts to create Titans of CNC Academy. Its graduates can earn from $25 to $40 per hour. “You can earn even more if you’re a top-notch programmer,” Gilroy said.

Titans of CNC Academy lessons are available online for free through a reality show on MAVTV called TITAN—American Built, which features programs about businesses that help to revive American manufacturing. The software is free to any school that wants it.

Prison administrators say they want parolees to have viable work skills so they won’t return to a life of crime.

The plan’s architect, Michael Valdez, said the strategy is working.

Titans of CNC Academy is part of the state’s Career Technical Education (CTE) program. Valdez is its vice principal and statewide manager.

“It’s not cheap; we had to upgrade from the 1940s technology. All of the trades have been upgraded. The funding came from federal grants. Those grants, along with departmental savings, allow us to pay for the upgrades,” Valdez said.

Recidivism rates are falling for CTE participants, according to Valdez. He cites a drop from about 70 percent in 2012 to about 45 percent today.

Titan Gilroy overseeing a student as he
operates a CNC machine

“When the investment began, there were 181 programs that provided training to 5,500 inmates. Today, 304 programs provide training to 9,000 inmates. But, we need to do more,” Valdez said. “There are 129,000 men and women in California prisons.”

“It is important for us to be creative to get folks access to CTE training near their exit so the skills are viable,” Valdez said. “That’s not to say longer-term inmates should not get the training, too. Longer-term inmates could learn the skills so, that the ‘each-one-teach-one’ method takes place.’ ”

Carlos Smith, 49, has been at San Quentin since 2014. He is serving a life sentence.

“I’m taking this course because I’ll need a trade to show the board that I am employable. But more important, this state-of-the-art training gives me a usable trade that I can take to the streets. This new stuff gives me the advantage that I need to be successful. It also makes me feel like I’m giving back to the community, instead of tearing it down. Titan has a beautiful spirit. He comes from the same cloth as we do, being an ex-convict. If he can do it, I know that I can, too.”

With 22 years of machining experience, local Bay Area resident Jason Johnson will be teaching the class.

“I think it’s great. It’s offering the guys a trade and learning a trade,” Johnson said. “They will be getting back into society to make the most of the time they’ve spent in prison.”

On the first day of class, a top software designer helped get things underway as Gilroy and Johnson walked around helping the students learn a machining program. Students used touch screen laptop computers to manipulate drawings from 2-D to 3-D as the Titans of CNC Academy film crew documented the events for its online classes.

Fernando Lopez, 36, has been incarcerated four years and will be released shortly.

“This class is the opportunity for me to do something better when I get out,” Lopez said.

Machine Shop instructor Jason Johnson

The students learn how to make the part with the correct dimensions and various patterns.

Philip Senegal, 49, is getting instruction from Gilroy on how to use the program.

“I have no computer skills at all,” Senegal said. He has been incarcerated 28 years. “This is interesting and challenging.”

Daniel Lucas “Luke” Colondres, 30, has been incarcerated 6 years.

“This is a job opportunity on the streets, and it means doing something constructive with my time while incarcerated,” Colondres said. “When I get on the streets, I want to step right into a job, so I don’t have to struggle.”

–Juan Haines

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