A vocational program is changing lives and instilling hope for a positive future for San Quentin prisoners.
The construction skills program enables prisoners to qualify for a number of career certifications and union memberships.
“This is a tough program that consists of 640 classroom hours, tests, workbook assignments and 280 hours of on-the-job training,” said Lauro Perez, instructor for the Career Technical Education (CTE) construction program.
This program is also a part of the California Prison Industry Authority (PIA) and inmates receive pay for their assigned hours.
CTE also incorporates values and morals toward a solid foundation for growth and future opportunity, Perez said.
“As a youth, I’d beat the pavement day in and day out, trying to become employed only to be turned away time and time again,” said Roosevelt “Askari” Johnson Jr., a CTE graduate and current teachers’ assistant. “That was “due to the lack of experience which, by the way, is one of the contributing factors that made it easy for me to em- brace a criminal life style.”
Another inmate, Jamai Johnson, said, “This construction trade will enable me to provide for my family, while giving back to the community by literally rebuilding what I once brought destruction to as a youth… Upon release, when I get my [driver’s] license, the CTE/PIA program will pay my first year union dues and purchase my tools.”
Perez, who has more than 21 years of experience in the laborers union, commented, “For the union construction industry, this is a time of optimism, promise and opportunity. All leading economic indicators for the construction industry point to steady and continued growth as we finally remove ourselves from the depths of one of the most debilitating recessions of our lifetime.
“Since I started teaching here last March, every guy who has successfully completed this program has gone out and hustled up work in the trades.”
Upon graduating the CTE/ PIA program and paroling, an individual can join a laborers’ union as an apprentice making $19.75 an hour. A carpenters apprentice can earn from $24.70 to $29.04 an hour in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Askari also said, “The CTE Laborers Program has changed the trajectory of my life forever in that I have little to no concerns about employment upon my release.”
He said he recommends the program to others in San Quentin and “I also believe this program should be made available in every prison in California.”
Perez said, “I come from an immigrant family, 21 siblings, poor; all we know is how to work. The great thing about the union is that if you can work hard you can find work. You do not even necessarily need to know how to speak English; as long as you can work hard, someone will hire you. I even worked 10 years as a contractor.”
Perez said a union journeyman laborer can make as much as $33.75 an hour, with an additional $23.55 an hour in fringe benefits. He also stated that an apprentice la- borer gets a raise of $2 an hour every six months, after finish- ing an apprentice class. An apprentice laborer must complete seven required classes and 4,000 hours of on the job work experience in order to become a journeyman laborer. A union carpenter makes $48.40 an hour in wages in the Bay Area, plus $30.51 an hour in fringe benefits.
CTE/PIA student Evan Page said, “Since I have been enrolled, I have gained certifications and experience in the construction trade as well as a positive outlook regard- ing my future work opportunities… I believe through this program I have gained enough knowledge and drive to truly succeed in the working world.”
CTE training covers asbestos abatement, scaffold building, concrete placement/ termination, and demolition/ deconstruction.
Also, confined space, soil compaction, trenching and excavation, metal and wood- stud framing, drywall/sheetrock/finish taping, floor prep, grade checking, concrete finishing, underground piping, general and industrial industry OSHA rules and regulations.
“The inmates coming in here knowing nothing, being green…,” Perez said. “Let me tell you something, one time I was sent back from a job because I was not good enough…I do not want that to happen to any of these men in this program. The lord has me here teaching. Seeing lives being transformed inspires me. I love coming to work, and I love my job. We have a positive atmosphere; we joke, and have a great time.”
Anyone interested in this program should send an In- mate Request Form to Lauro Perez at the CTE program requesting an interview for the next scheduled program entry.