A telephone conversation between a father a nd h is d aughter took a n u nexpected turn that resulted in the creation of an opportunity for San Quentin’s incarcerated residents.
In August, 50 residents will begin a four-part, correspondence course leading to certification as truck drivers. As the fi rst g roup m oves i nto t he s econd module, another 50 will enter module one, and so on until as many as 200 at a time will be training.
More than 370 SQ residents attended an orientation for the first class of Concrete Rose Trucking in the prison’s Protestant Chapel in June, listening intently to cofounder Autumn O’Bannon’s presentation and plying her with questions.
Autumn says that her program prioritizes people with felony records and folks who struggle to get back into the workforce. It will serve both incarcerated and formerly-incarcerated people.
“We’re here to serve the underserved. You guys are a priority to us,” she said in an interview with San Quentin News.
Returning citizens often fair better seeking work in trucking than in many other industries, according to Autumn. She said that attitudes toward hiring the formerly incarcerated depend on the company.
The first seeds of the program were planted when O’Bannon drove a truck simply “to see if I would enjoy it,” and then “learned to love it.” Eventually she bought her own truck. The independence and steady income gave her peace of mind.
After having a baby and taking maternity leave, she hired a driver so that her truck would continue generating income. But she went through six drivers in three months. So she decided to open a truck driving school in her community.
She told her father, Vincent O’Bannon, a San Quentin resident, that she needed “decent drivers that would take care of the equipment that would know what it takes to make a profit in a truck.”
Vincent told her that many San Quentin residents are interested in truck driving and talk about it as a viable option once they are back in the community. The father-daughter duo successfully pitched the idea of creating a correspondence course to San Quentin’s administration.
In its present form, the course may be a precursor to a classroom with simulators.
“There have been two dynamics around the buzz about the program,” Vincent said.
“A lot of guys are interested in participating in the program, liking the idea of another avenue for reentry once they finish their time. On the flip side, guys want more than just [the limited involvement of] a correspondence course.”
Vincent says that for that reason he has been in talks with the administration about providing the training in a classroom setting as opposed to just as a correspondence course.
“Five years from now, I see men and women being able to not only get the classroom training, but having simulator training so that they’d feel what it’s like to [drive] an 18-wheeler.”
Autumn shares her father’s vision that the course will go beyond training by correspondence. She believes that simulated driver training through technology such as Oculus fits well into plans to transform San Quentin into an innovative rehabilitation center.
The entrepreneur plans to take the program beyond San Quentin and is determined to include incarcerated women, envisioning the program at “other male prisons and also to the female prisons as well.”
“Right now, there’s a lot of women truck drivers, but we only cover about 15% of the trucking industry,” she said.
“From my experience, a lot of companies love the women drivers — just to be able to give that same freedom and stability that I found in trucking — to be able to offer it to those I know that need it just as much as I did.”
Vincent added, “I hope that more women would be interested in truck driving since the Concrete Rose Trucking non-profit board consists of all women.”
In her interview with the San Quentin News, and in the town hall meeting with San Quentin’s residents, Autumn appeared poised and in command of her topic. Her vision goes beyond the training she offers to its potential benefits.
She foresees incarcerated people returning to their communities prepared for good jobs with the earning potential to help ensure the stability and continuity of families in their communities.