Monday, July 20, 2009

Offering the Incarcerated the Skills to Succeed

By David Staudacher, Rio Salado College PR Manager, 480.517.8472

Throughout life, we are taught to follow a straight and narrow path in the same way railroad tracks guide trains in the correct way to go. But not everyone chooses to follow the correct path, and when they stray, their lives can be as destructive as a train when it falls off the tracks.

For Lisa Main, choosing the stray path led her to ASPC-Perryville, a prison in Goodyear.
“I was arrested for forgery and sentenced to four years in prison,” said Main. “I made a mistake and had to pay.”

To get her life back on track, Main followed the advice of her fellow inmates and participated in the Workforce Development and Re-Entry program offered by Tempe-based Rio Salado College.
“I didn’t want to waste my time in prison, said Main. “I wanted to get my degree and see where I could take it. I took every class that was available.

“The program I was in had an emphasis on construction technology. “I completed classes in carpentry, electrical, plumbing, computer technology and maintenance, parenting at a distance, and earned a stack of certificates.”

To further compliment the students’ training, the partnership with the Arizona Correctional Industries places students in jobs while they are training.

“These programs have evolved from pen and paper to hands on training,” said Jo Jorgenson, dean of instruction at Rio Salado College. “Now, the students are reinforcing what they learn, while helping reduce costs at the facilities where they are incarcerated.”

It was during one of the hands-on training sessions that Main was presented with an opportunity that helped turn her life around even more.

“I was part of a crew that was remodeling [Rio Salado College’s] Hohokam building,” said Main. “I was told that there was a job opening at the school and that I should apply for the position. So I did. Then I was offered an interview, and four days after I got out of prison I started working for Rio Salado College.”

Securing a position with Rio Salado was not easy, but a couple of strong references gave her a boost. Instructor Earnie Atkins and Jorgenson recommend her for the position. These references, along with observing her work at Rio Salado helped her stand out from the rest of the applicants.

“I met Lisa through the prison program that was working for the college,” said Richard Espinoza, director of facilities at Rio Salado College. “I saw her work ethics, honesty and that she was a good person that got along with everyone. Now, she is an excellent employee and an asset to the college.”

With her past behind her, Main is excelling at work, enjoying life, and still concentrating on her education.

“Every day, we are helping to educate nearly 750 students at Perryville and nearly 300 at Lewis,” said Jorgenson. “Some students will earn certificates and others are earning associate degrees. What’s great is once they start college courses, they are hooked on education.”

Main is one of the students who got hooked on education. This past May, she completed her first associate degree and plans to continue taking college courses.

“This program completely changed my life for the better,” said Main. “I’m looking at taking more classes to earn another associate degree in organizational management, and then I plan to get my bachelor’s degree.”

Main is a great example of how education helped turn her life around. Seeing her succeed is why Rio Salado College has responded to an ongoing community need in its effort to make educational opportunities available to this population. By offering an education outlet, the incarcerated have an opportunity to get their lives on the right track when they are released from prison.