The most expensive project in CDCR to include the use of incarcerated men was near completion at San Quentin’s PIA facility before the prison was locked down due to the Governor’s State of Emergency on March 12, 2020.
CDCR approved a working partnership between qualified contractors and the men of the Inmate Daily Labor (IDL) program for a 4.5 million dollar demolition and construction of PIA’s roof.
Prior to the Covid out-break, the original job schedule was for 6 months and included 8 phases of roofing around key operations downstairs. The operations affected were PIA, CTE, and Cod-ing. In spite of delays from leaks caused by the January 2020’s rains, the project was still on time prior to the quarantine.
Melding outside professionals and incarcerated men, has led to no major injuries and productivity has stayed on schedule pre-Covid. “I’m proud of my crew… I couldn’t be more pleased with my staff,” said Vivian who manages a crew consisting of two custody officers, six supervisors, and 30 inmate workers.
“It’s a great opportunity when we hire guys. Our goals then become teaching them and getting them familiar with construction, because when they get good at their craft here on the job, they can become tradesmen. This apprenticeship allows them to be hired almost immediately at outside union halls which are empty because the younger generation has selected “IT” jobs—California needs workers now,” said the supervisor of PIA’s Inmate Work Labor (IWL) program, Steve Vivian.
Vivian’s claim regarding the need for construction workers was verified on Channel 7 News on June 18. Channel 7 reported for every five construction workers retiring post-pandemic, only one person is available to replace the departing workers.
The project, in full view on the lower yard, actually began design in 2017. Specifications included demolishing and installing 100,000 square feet, or 2.5 acres of roof. The incarcerated residents were paid one dollar per hour for their skill, which makes their job the highest paid job at San Quentin. In return, they receive training and exposure to an occupation that will transfer to all communities.
The incarcerated learn more than a trade. “We have all races working together with one common goal… we do the job safely and on time. It’s a coalition of color, comedy and harmony….always laughing,” said senior incarcerated tradesman James Patrick Benson who has been on the job since the beginning.
Benson has 20 years of construction experience and notes he has done everything, “from laborer to carpentry, to masonry to plumbing.” He began roofing in prison in 2014 through Inmate Day Labor (IDL) now called IWL. With his experience, he has been on the PIA Project since day one—which he said was July 2019.
According to Benson and Vivian, there are approximately 30 incarcerated men on staff. “Before the pre-Covid lockdown, we had just replaced 5 people from the initial employment team.”
Also on the job site are state-required Cal OSHA union-trained, tradesmen. This crew consisted of one foreman; six roofers; one carpenter; one laborer; and one electrician. The outside specialists are union casuals who act as supervisors that manage and implement Vivian’s leadership philosophies. Their responsibilities include maintaining state regulations and ensuring guidelines throughout the project.
The project featured single ply roofing of four twenty-foot rolls of membrane. The membrane, seamed together as one unit, insures a complete weather and waterproofed sheet that comes with a ten-year manufacturer’s warranty.
New window openings, prepped and covered by the new roof, were cut out after the arrival of the window sections. The roof is now one seam after the window installation. “Work was on time and scheduled for completion by 3/27/20. We were just waiting on the windows when the State of Emergency shut us down,” said the supervisor who manages projects here and at Solano.
Incarcerated Mendocino resident Mark Radcliffe loved the physical work. A lumberjack in the forests on the coast, he stated, “I appreciated being adopted by the IDL family. It’s financially and psychologically rewarding. I am proud to be an asset to Steve.
Both Benson and Hedges shared common insight. “…it’s not a me job…it’s a we job–I’ve got passion for what Steve is up against…we are for him,” said Benson.
Hedges added, “Steve admonishes our guys to take advantage of outside roofers to learn as much as possible.”
Both agreed, “It’s about the job.”
Vivian, who has been in construction most of his adult life mentioned jobs are posted throughout buildings and require one to two inter-views. “All I ask for is a full commitment,” said Vivian.
Vivian added, “San Quentin’s rehabilitative incarcerated programs extend past the vital healing and restorative spectrum the prison is known for–CDCR’s premiere prison also includes trades that are applicable upon the incarcerated release. We look forward to helping the individual grow and enjoy giving them more experience, as we repair the West and South Block kitchens in July this year.”