When Jordan is released from Utah State Prison soon, he'll walk out with $100 - and a skill that could buy him entry into employment and a straight life.
The $100 is the standard amount given each departing prisoner. The skill he learned in a carpentry class that he says is "the best thing that has happened to me while I've been in prison."Although he is a high school graduate and has completed some college classes, Jordan had never had a salable skill. "Now I can leave here and make a decent wage. I'll have some security," said the 23-year-old, who is nearing the end of his second prison sentence.
Roberto, too, has been hooked on construction. "I'd never thought of carpentry as a career. Then after we'd finished one building, I wanted to put another one up, and another. It's a good feeling to see them finished." On his own, he's learning more about reading blueprints, wiring, plumbing and other building skills that go beyond the prison's program.
"We need more instructors and advanced courses," he said."I walked in here at 18 with nothing. I'll leave (in June 1991) with something worthwhile."
The prisoners in the program are learning in a practical way. They build portable classrooms for school districts that are bursting at the seams. After completing some structures for Jordan District (which operates the prison's education program), the prison students were thrilled to receive thank-you letters from elementary schoolchildren who are using the units.
The units are being built at a considerable savings to the school districts - and so to taxpayers. And the districts are getting a high-quality product, said Jay Miller, the program's instructor.
"We have time. We have the latitude to redo something when it isn't done right," Miller said. "We're proud of our work." Novice workers begin with hand tools and graduate to power tools as they demonstrate proficiency, he said. They learn rough framing, stair construction, insulation, exterior and interior finishing and basic blueprint reading.
The program is open entry and open exit, with students moving on as they achieve required competencies. Some have to be brought up to speed in the math concepts related to the field before they can move on, Miller said.
The competencies are the same required of students in the program at Salt Lake Community College. The college oversees the prison program through the Salt Lake Skills Center, which is a largely federally funded program to provide vocational training for socioeconomically deprived Salt Lake area residents.
The real payoff, however, comes at the end of their prison time. Miller, working through the Skills Center placement program, has been instrumental in getting jobs for a high percentage of those trainees who have completed the program and left the prison. Their employers report satisfaction with them as workers, Miller said.
"Jay's recommendation carries weight," said Glenn, a young man who has always been inclined to work with his hands. He has completed high school and is now considering the options his carpentry training has provided. "I've discovered education," he said. "I finished in five months and got straight A's."
For Marty Kelly, who heads the education program at the prison, the success of the carpentry program is a source of both pride and consternation. It proves how effective such programs can be, and she chafes that there are not more vocational/technical training opportunities for prisoners.
Ninety-eight percent of the prisoners eventually return to society. If they do so with training that will open the door to employment, their chances of slipping back into criminal activity are reduced, she said.
That's lots better than a hundred dollar bill.