Posted on October 17, 2016 17:01
Though similar programs have been in place in corrections facilities for men, the Madison Women’s Correctional Facility will be the first in the United States to offer female inmates an opportunity to become certified in the manufacturing field before they are released.
The program is made possible through the Indiana Department of Education’s Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education grant program. It was one of four grants awarded this year, totaling $302,000.
Ivy Tech Madison received a $42,378 grant, which will expand the college’s partnership with River Valley Resources’ Clearinghouse to provide new pathways for postsecondary education to incarcerated women at the Madison facility.
“We have employers who need workers, primarily in manufacturing,” said Molly Dodge, director of adult education for River Valley Resources. With only a few exceptions, Dodge said that every woman in the state’s prison system will come through the Madison facility before their release.
“So the purpose of that facility is to provide the programs and the opportunities, like work-release, to enable these women to successfully re-enter their communities,” she said. While many return home, some opt to stay in Madison because of the employment opportunities.
The grant will allow the facility to offer the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council’s Certified Production Technician program, which also earns its enrollees college credits from Ivy Tech that they can take with them.
Ten women will be selected for this year’s program, which starts in November. To qualify, they each must have successfully completed other programs and have been recommended for the certification program by prison staff. Once they earn their certification, they must complete a job-readiness program and then get hired into a work-release job, in which they can leave the facility to work their shifts at local factories while still serving their time.
Not only will the women become self-sufficient taxpayers when they re-enter society, Dodge believes the program “could have a ripple effect, because these women have kids. Having a skill (and a good-paying job) when they get out, it also helps whole families.”
Both Dodge and prison Superintendent Jan G. Davis believe the program also will help reduce recidivism among the women offenders.
“Any time you can provide something that will get them gainful employment on the outside, there’s a much better chance that they’re not going to come back,” Davis said. “I think that this certificate will do that. I think it will open avenues for them that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. ... We want to make sure they have the potential to be successful. That’s our main goal, to get them to go home and stay home.”
As of Friday, five women had been accepted into the program so far. Each is serving time for drug-related felonies, each said they feel more hopeful for their future on the outside.
“Any tools I can gain while I’m here, to help me when I get out, will be great,” said Brittany Young, 33, originally of Knightstown.
Young, who is on track to start her one-year work-release in June, said she plans to stay in Madison after she is released and hopes to continue at Ivy Tech and eventually earn an associate’s degree.
“It’s awesome,” she said, smiling. “I never had this opportunity when I was out. I never thought when I came to prison that I would get the opportunities that this prison offers.”
Tawanha Price, 31, of Crawfordsville, who has a 9-year-old daughter, said she enjoys learning and has always been interested in furthering her education. “This will be a huge opportunity to do better, to make more money to sustain myself and not have to go back to what I was doing before – dealing drugs.”
Candice Hennen, a 28-year-old mother of two from Huntington, said she has experience in production work at factories and said the program “gives me a base to build off of.” Her goal is to have a career as a machinist and she, too, wants to continue her education upon release.
“When you’re at home, you feel like I can’t go to college, I don’t have time for that,” she said. Now she knows that time never really was a factor. “I work way longer hours here than I ever have. It just gives me motivation to continue to do it when I do get out there, because I know it is possible.”
Her children are part of her motivation. “Just the fact that I can do right by them, doing it the right way, instead of going out and needing fast money and selling drugs,” she said. “I know I can go to work and make decent money and be able to bring that money home ... and show them how to do it, the right way.”
Being part of a ground-breaking program, too, is “really inspiring,” said Dakota Smith, 27, of Columbus. “To be part of something bigger, not to just do it for ourself ... (to have) the possibility of actually getting to live to our potential. Because out there, it was just failure after failure. It was terrible. But now ... the possibilities are endless.
“I feel like maybe this is what people feel like when they graduate high school and are going to college,” Smith added. “I never did that. I skipped that, getting high. And I hate that, but I love that we get to do it now. ... I don’t want to go back to the same things.”
Riley Jacobs, 27, of Indianapolis brought home the reality of their situations: “We’re going to have felonies when we leave here; there’s a negative on our resume and applications, but maybe (we can) counteract that with positives,” she said.”We have information about possible careers if we continue to go to Ivy Tech, and there are a whole lot of good opportunities” in the Madison area.
“People are capable of rehabilitation, if they are willing to accept it and are offered the chances to,” Price added. “So, there’s no reason for us not to take advantage of this.”
While most people might think of prison as a sad, depressing and scary place, all five women say the Madison facility is a positive place that has given them hope.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of people to give me hope in my past, not a whole lot of people to make proud,” Young said. “The staff here truly believes in us. ... I’ve never had as much hope as I have here.”
Through all of the programs available at the prison, the women also have come to realize the power of being able to give back to the community.
“Before we were incarcerated, we were in our addiction and to be real about it, we were taking from the community by selling the drugs and stuff,” Young said. “Since we’ve been in here, we’ve gotten to give back to the community a lot. It’s so fulfilling, and it’s made such a difference for me. It makes me want to give back when I get opportunities like this, too.
“It’s a gift,” she said. “The whole program’s a gift.”