By Steve Foglio. Steve is a Prerelease Job Readiness Workshop Facilitator.
Thursday evening, 6:10 pm, the prison doors latch shut behind me as I make my way past the security checkpoint and across the prison yard. This could only mean one thing. It’s my workshop night at the Northeast Reintegration Center (NERC) which both a minimum and medium security woman’s prison where I hold pre-release job readiness workshops. When that classroom door closes, there’s a collective feeling of relief as the participants’ focus shifts from where they are to where they want to be. The work we do isn’t easy, the lessons are meant to be challenging. “Real time” is served in our classroom with sessions packed with job readiness training and reentry programming. I look into hopeful eyes and explain that they have so much more to live for than simply wasting their skills behind these prison walls. “If you let it, prison can become a graveyard of your skills, of your hopes, and of your dreams,” I tell them. I know that I can provide skills training, information and resources during our evening sessions, however, at the end of the day, each person has to make their own life changing decision to follow-up. I am proud to share the stories of two participants in particular that did just that and more!
Karla and Kaitlynd are two NERC participants who took full advantage of what Towards Employment (TE) has to offer. While they were incarcerated, I enrolled them into the pre-release workshop. They worked hard and remained positive throughout all of the sessions. Once their feet hit the pavement outside the prison walls they had a mission and that mission was to be successful.
Karla and Kaitlynd were both released in 2015 just as TE was gearing up to open its first social venture, Bloom Bakery. Both participants followed up immediately after their release from incarceration and enrolled in our post-release programming. Their self-confidence skyrocketed during their time at TE. I am very happy to report that both participants worked extremely hard which earned them the opportunity to work for Bloom. The interviewing process for Bloom’s first hires was very demanding but both Karla and Kaitlynd shone. Due to the fact that they were hired so early on, they were involved directly in getting the business off the ground. I am filled with joy when I think about how two people who were just released in late 2015 are now successfully working as a team to launch a business. I absolutely love witnessing the growth of pre-release participants. Incarceration is such a low and draining point in one’s life and it can be challenging to help individuals build the confidence, or as we call it the “GRIT”, to follow through on the outside. It all starts that first day in that prison classroom.
I like to share with others how much I enjoy the moments when I get to see pre-release participants from class in work attire for the first time. I get so used to seeing the prison uniform (aka “State Blues”) for months and months at a time. Day in and day out, I see them in the same plain cloths (I also really dislike the color orange male participants wear in the county jail – but that’s another story). It truly is pleasant to see the participants not only out of those prison cloths, but in nice professional attire, be it a suit, medical scrubs, or even a nice Bloom Bakery uniform. Maybe it’s not just the outerwear that looks nice, but what’s on the inside that truly matters. It’s about the transformation from incarceration to release, from being discouraged to being confident, from being behind bars to being behind a counter, serving customers. It’s a transformation I get to witness that many people don’t have the opportunity to experience.
I am very proud of these first NERC participants, not just of their personal success, but because they paved the way for others coming out of the prison system to be successful as well. The NERC program is just over one year old. I consider Karla and Kaitlynd to be part of the “pioneer group” that have come through to carve out future programming. During class, I always tell participants they are helping someone out that they have never met before. Someone going through the pre-release program at this moment will have a better chance of success because of the road Karla and Kaitlynd paved. I have no doubt they will make Bloom a great establishment. From breaking their barriers to baking bread (really good bread at that!) is a testament to their hard work. A positive attitude, determination and the will to succeed are three main ingredients for baking up these great success stories.