Indiana inmate creates job search PowerPoint presentation

job search PowerPoint presentationAn inmate at a women’s prison in Madison, Ind., created a PowerPoint presentation of our book, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed. And we’re happy to share her Jails to Jobs PPT with readers who might want to do something similar for the job search workshops they present.

The idea came about at the suggestion of Mary Shipman, a business technology instructor at the prison, who teaches prisoners how to use Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. She discovered our book on Amazon.

“I recently presented your book to an offender as material for a practice PowerPoint project,” Shipman says. “I gave her the book on Friday and by Monday she had read it and came back to class excited to start working on her project.  She says that this book is the most relevant and up-to-date information she has been given from a single source.”

She created the presentation and shared it with her class. The PowerPoint was such a hit that she has presented it to several other programs at the facility.

She has found her passion

“She’s really found her passion. She goes and gives these presentations and empowers women. It’s an amazing thing to see. I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Shipman.

“As an instructor, I am proud of what she has accomplished, and I feel that your book has played a role in her future success after release.”

The inmate has been incarcerated for a little more than three years and will be going home in December, just before Christmas. Her crime: prescription fraud.

Although she was included in a documentary movie, she has never done any public speaking before, according to Shipman. And the woman is really making an impact.

“It’s interesting to watch because you can see the other women nodding their heads. I’ve tried to give this presentation but it’s not quite the same as someone who’s gone through it,” she says.

In addition to the presentation, Shipmen uses our book in her course. Two things that she feels are particularly useful to the students is the idea of using a JIST card, which she didn’t know about before, and going to a free or low-cost tattoo removal program to get unwanted tattoos taken off.

Improving pre-release job search education

Although Shipman feels that prisons are getting better at preparing inmates for reentry, the best thing they can do is give specific advice and information.

“The most important thing is giving them specific places to go,” she says. “Tell them, ‘When you get out, this is where you need to go and this is what they can do for you.’ This takes away the personal accountability, but it will help them.

“They’ve had people telling them what to do for the past five years (Or however long they’ve been in prison), so if we tell them what’s their first step it would help tremendously.”


Jails to Jobs’ book in every New South Wales, Australia prison

PrintWhen we set a goal of getting our book, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed, in every prison library in the United States, we had no idea our reach would extend beyond that. But it has.

We recently received an order for 50 books from an Australian distributor and wanted to find out what compelled someone Down Under to buy our book.

Well, it turns out the copies were purchased by a Sydney-area book distributor for the prisons in the state of New South Wales. (For those unfamiliar with Australia, it’s the state where Sydney is located.)

We were curious to learn why the New South Wales prison system would want our book. So we got in touch with them through the distributor and heard from one of the library technicians at the New South Wales Department of Corrective Services, who asked that his name not be mentioned.

This person’s job is to handle books for all of the correctional center libraries in New South Wales.

“We found out about the book from a prison libraries e-list our library manager subscribes to. The link was to Amazon, who we can’t buy from, hence we asked the distributor to organize the purchase,” he says.

New South Wales has 32 correctional centers and about 40 libraries.

But why our book?

“To my knowledge there are no current publications (in Australia) relating to inmates seeking work once released,” he says.

We hope our book will help those Australian inmates who have access to it launch their job search after release.

For other prisons or prison systems that might be interested, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed can be purchased through Amazon. We also offer bulk rates to those who contact us directly.


What makes a good prison library

0-1At Jails to Jobs we realize the importance of inmates getting access to job search information so they’ll be ready to hit the pavement upon release.

And one way to get that information is by spending time in the library of the facility where they are incarcerated.

In order to help serve those inmates, we’ve begun a campaign to get our book, Jails to Jobs: Seven Steps to Becoming Employed, into every prison library in the U.S.

But what makes a good prison library and how do they help incarcerated people prepare for success on the outside?

We thought we’d ask Brandy Buenafe, principal librarian of the Office of Correctional Education, Division of Rehabilitative Programs of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

Here’s what she had to say:

Do you have any idea of what percentage of prisons in the U.S. have libraries?

I am not familiar with the entire United States. I know here in California all of the state prisons have libraries, some more than one. There are 35 institutions in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and 125 libraries.

What is the goal of a prison library?

Our goal is to provide an accurate source of unbiased information, including updated reference and legal resources. We also provide fiction and non-fiction reading books.

What makes a good prison library?

I think when the library is perceived by custody, staff and inmates as fulfilling the above goals, it is a good library. I am also encouraged by our libraries that offer additional literacy support, such as book clubs, essay contests and reading reward programs.

How do librarians evaluate the books that go into their libraries?

Books are evaluated by several pieces of criteria, including a list of disapproved titles, the reading needs and desires of the population, and several mandates including percentages of fiction and non-fiction.

How much emphasis is given on job search info in prison libraries?

CDCR libraries include many pieces of self-help information, including resume writing and successful re-entry. We are also part of the Division of Rehabilitative Programs, which has a Community Re-entry Office.

What do prison librarians do to encourage the use of the library among the inmates?

(They sponsor) contests, and do marketing (both word of mouth and on inmate television). The contests are generally around designing a bookmark or writing an essay or poem. Rewards range from certificates of completion to special food items, such as soda pop.

How do you think prison libraries can be improved?

That’s a really good question. We are focusing on recruiting more staff, as there is historically a high vacancy rate. We are highlighting the safe working environment, excellent pay and benefits, and opportunity to impact the lives of individuals and society. We are also often behind the 8 ball when it comes to technology, but in California that is just a matter of time. Now that we will be offering in-person college courses in our institutions, our libraries will need to improve their database offerings, and I’m confident we can do so.

If any readers know of a prison librarian who would like to receive a complimentary copy of our book for their library, please tell them to contact us.


California expands college opportunities for inmates

pedagogy-194931_1280An agreement signed this spring between the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office will provide the first-ever funding to California community colleges for courses taught inside state prisons.

Beginning with four pilot project locations announced earlier this month, the effort is expected to greatly increase and expand California inmate access to higher education and offer incarcerated students an opportunity to earn degrees, certificates or the opportunity to eventually transfer to a four-year university.

It was all made possible by the September 2014 passage of California Senate Bill 1391 authored by State Senator Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley). The bill provides CCCCO up to $2 million to create and support at least four pilot sites through funding derived from California’s Recidivism Reduction Fund.

Created last year in the State Treasury by California Senate Bill 105, the fund provides money for activities designed to reduce the state’s prison population and lower the rate of recidivism.

The $2 million dedicated to the correctional facility community college education pilot project will be split between the following educational institutions/prison sites:

  • Lassen Community College @ High Desert State Prison
  • Chaffey Community College @ California Institution for Women
  • Antelope Valley Community College @ California State Prison, Los Angeles
  • Los Rios (Folsom Lake College) @ Folsom Women’s Facility

Although a recent RAND report found that every dollar invested in inmate education resulted in $5 saved in future prison costs, California community colleges did not previously receive funding to teach within state prisons.

This limited higher education opportunities for inmates, in many cases, to distance learning models and prevented continuity in coursework between prisons. That will soon change, however.

“One of the best accomplishments of SB 1391 is the coalition between CDCR and the Chancellor’s Office,” Superintendent of CDCR’s Office of Correctional Education Brantley Choate said. “We are now inspired to work collaboratively to break down departmental silos to create the best correctional college system in the world.”

CDCR will work with CCCCO and participating colleges to determine suitable program offerings in each of the selected institutions and provide the necessary classroom space, furniture, equipment and technology. It will also provide training to participating California community college staff, faculty and volunteers to prepare them for the unique challenges of providing educational services to inmates.

“Expanding access to higher education can have tremendous benefits for incarcerated students and those around them,” said California Community Colleges Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Pam Walker. “Community colleges can provide incarcerated students with new skills and perspectives that can help build better lives and reduce recidivism.”

Classes are expected to begin in the fall.


Jails to Jobs launches books to prison libraries program

prison libariesThanks to funding from a generous donor, Jails to Jobs has launched a new campaign to get its book, Jails to Jobs; Seven Steps to Becoming Employed, in the library of every jail and prison in the U.S. And we’re asking you to help us.

A lofty goal? Maybe. Impossible? We’ll see.

But one thing we’re sure of. Hiring formerly incarcerated people is a crucial step in helping prevent recidivism, and many of those who have been in prison must put extra effort into preparing for the job search process.

More than 700,000 people leave U.S. federal and state prisons each year, and within three years 40 percent are right back in.

Step-by-step guide to finding a job

The book we’ve written is a practical step-by-step guide to finding a job, geared towards people with criminal records. We’re convinced that those who follow the recommended steps will be well prepared to face the unique challenges they are likely to confront.

They’ll know when to use a JIST card instead of a resume. They’ll know where to find tattoo-removal programs for those anti-social or gang-related tattoos – job stoppers as they’re sometimes called. And they’ll know how to use a turnaround talk and turnaround packet to show that they’re not the same person now that they were when they committed whatever crime put them in prison in the first place.

So back to our goal of getting our book into every prison and jail in the U.S.

We estimate that there are:

  • 1,800 state and federal correctional facilities
  • 3,200 local and county jails

We’re compiling a list of all of them and have already started to get the word out.

Although our goal is to get just a single copy of the book into every prison and jail, one California facility has already asked for four copies.

Will you join us? Each book sells for $14,95, and you can choose which prison or jail to send it to, if you’d like. You may also donate it in honor of someone’s memory or someone who was previously incarcerated and is now successfully working on the outside. To donate, please visit our website.


WiderNet Project brings online resources to correctional facilities

wider_COEP_twitter-400The WiderNet Project, a Chapel Hill, N.C.-based nonprofit dedicated to reducing the digital divide worldwide, is expanding its Corrections Off-line Education Platform (COEP), so that more inmates will be able to access the type of information found online.

The organization‘s eGranary Digital Library, or The Internet in a Box, has allowed schools and organizations with no internet access to search for information from more than 40 million digital resources, including websites, books, educational software programs and computer software applications. Topics deal with everything from building wells to the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab), which features exercises designed to teach writing.

The eGranary Digital Library mirrors the Internet and allows searches, but users cannot go online, since the sites are not live but saved on the server.

WiderNet is using eGranary to develop the  COEP offline server, that is beginning to be used in jails and prisons, giving inmates wider access to educational opportunities and improving their skills and knowledge.

“This platform allows correctional facilities to build an educational platform offline,” says Heather Erwin, the organization’s prison project coordinator. “From the 40 million resources we have in eGranary, we took those that crossed over well and used them for COEP.”

COEP will concentrate on resources related to re-entry, including GED, vocational training, and computer and job search readiness skills.

COEP current and future locations

WiderNet’s prison project was launched in 2006 at the Iowa Medical Classification Center, where all offenders in Iowa go before being sent on to one of the state’s 11 correctional facilities. The organization delivered a server to the facility, where it was installed in the library and used for online research in an offline manner.

From IMCC, the prison project expanded to other facilities in Iowa and is now at a prison in Washington State. The WiderNet Project has also contracted with California to go into the Corcoran Medical Center and has been talking to Los Angeles County and officials in the San Francisco Bay Area to expand to those places as well. It is also in discussion with the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services and the Windham School District, which operates schools on 90 Texas Department of Criminal Justice sites.

In addition, the nonprofit signed a contract with the Correctional Educations Association to provide content for tablets that will be used in a pilot project by Ashland University, which is located in Ashland, Ohio and offers courses in correctional facilities around the state.

Funding for the program

According to Erwin, facilities that have been interested in implementing COEP usually have access to Perkins grant money. The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act provides more than $1.1 billion each year to states for improving secondary and post-secondary career and technical education programs.

The WiderNet Project is looking for partners and sites to help spread COEP to more correctional facilities around the nation. Contact them by calling 919-240-4622 or by email at

The organization is also planning to include the Jails to Jobs website in COEP. Our website has extensive information to help those in reentry learn how to conduct an effective job search and readjust to their new life. We support anything that helps to empower and educate, reduce recidivism and improve public safety, and feel that COEP is a very worthy effort.


Blackstone helps inmates prepare for a legal career while in prison

Textbook used in Blackstone Career Institute’s paralegal program for prisoners.

Ambitious inmates who want to lay the groundwork for employment after release might want to consider studying a paralegal course. And they won’t be alone.

They will join Fabian Ruiz – who we profiled October 31 and who now works for a criminal law practice – and hundreds of other current and former prisoners, who have taken The Allentown, Pa.-based Blackstone Career Institute’s Correspondence Paralegal Program for Inmates.

“At any given moment we have more than 1,200 inmates actively involved in our paralegal program,” says Kevin McCloskey, the institute’s president. “Over the years we’ve delivered product into 1,800 correctional facilities.”

Originally founded in 1890 as a law school, the Blackstone Career Institute changed its focus to preparing paralegals in the late 1970s. Its inmate program is designed to be completed the old-fashioned way, using soft covered books and materials shipped directly to the inmates by U.S. mail. All materials needed for the courses are provided, and no computer or Internet access is required.

How it works

The institute sends out a packet to prospective students that includes a checklist with what they will have to go through with their correctional institution in order to take a correspondence course.

Once accepted into the program, students receive a 10-volume set of texts, totaling nearly 2,150 pages. They will also receive a law glossary and law dictionary, as well as texts on legal research and writing, ethics and job search techniques.

Students must pass 31 tests and complete six writing samples, all of which are supplied by Blackstone to be returned in pre-addressed envelopes. They can also submit questions by mail.

Tuition for inmates comes to $767, which can be paid in one payment or 12 monthly payments with no finance charge. Usually someone on the outside pays the tuition, but because Blackstone is an accredited institution, inmates who are veterans can take advantage of the Montgomery G.I. Bill.

After completing the paralegal course, which according to McCloskey takes on average 14 months, the inmates can study up to eight advanced courses. These courses cover personal injury/torts; family law; wills, trusts, and estates; criminal law; civil litigation; business and corporate law; real estate law; and practical bankruptcy law.

McCloskey estimates that 20 percent to 25 percent of inmates continue with one or more of the advanced classes, the most popular being, not surprisingly, criminal law. “And who better to work in a criminal law firm?” says McCloskey. “If a criminal attorney can latch onto an ex-offender who has paralegal training, it’s a great combination for them to have on their staff.”

Although convicted felons in most cases cannot become paralegals, they can serve as legal researchers and, thanks to what they’ve learned in the program, they will be more job-ready than most other inmates upon their release.

For more information on Blackstone Career Institute’s program for prisoners visit

For information on the paralegal field visit and