CalPIA trains prisoners to enter workforce upon release

Offenders make American flags for the State of California at the Central California Women’s Facility, Chowchilla.

Although paid work done by prisoners has been criticized as “slave” labor that steals jobs from those on the outside, prison employment programs keep many prisoners busy and potentially out of trouble, while at the same time providing training to help reduce the monetary and social costs of recidivism.

If you have a relative or friend in prison, encourage them to enroll in one of these programs, if they haven’t already. It could be very beneficial for them to do so and provide the necessary skills to become employed and stay out of prison in the future.

In California, for example, the state-operated California Prison Industries Authority provides employment for 7,000 inmates in more than 60 service, manufacturing and agricultural industries located in 22 prisons. These industries produce more than 1,200 products that range from coffee and baked goods to furniture and eyewear.

Accredited certification programs for a wide variety of skills help inmates develop the experience and knowledge they need to get a job after their sentence is complete. Among the most successful of these certification programs is the Career Technical Education program. This program trains participants at Folsom State Prison to be carpenters, ironworks and laborers and at the California Institution for Women, Corona, to be carpenters.

“We partner with labor unions, and when our guys (and gals) get out of the program they become apprentices,” says Erick Reslock, chief, external affairs of the CalPIA. “We give them a tool belt and pay their union dues for the first year.” During their training they do facilities maintenance for such underfunded government agencies as the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Folsom Division. Inmate employees get paid between 30 and 90 cents per hour, but after release will move into salaried apprenticeship programs.

At the California Institution for Men, Chino, CalPIA operates the Marine Technology Training Center, a commercial diving school which trains participants to be divers and underwater welders and is also part of the Career Technical Education program. “Upon release, they get immediately hired on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico at six-figure salaries,” Reslock says. They’re also being hired to do underwater welding for the Port of Los Angles. With 2,040 hours of training it’s a rigorous curriculum that produces not only skilled employees but ex-offenders who stay out of prison. Only two people who participated in the program have ever been re-incarcerated, according to Reslock.

Also part of its services to inmates, CalPIA offers assistance in resume writing and developing interviewing skills. It also helps them get a California driver’s license or ID and directs them to such resources as the California One-stop Career Centers for further help with their job search.

CalPIA spends $96 million a year on raw materials for its industries, and when buying those materials, the authority gives preference to companies that hire ex-offenders, just one more employment-related benefit for those who’ve been through the system.

For more information, check out For information on jail industries across the nation, go to


Jerry Seinfeld’s advice works for job seekers

Jerry Seinfeld

Searching for a job is not easy, and it can be difficult to keep up your spirits day after day. You send out resumes and never hear back, try to call people who never seem to be around or get distracted by all the other things going on in your life. These problems will not go away, and you need to develop techniques to overcome them.

One of the best techniques we’ve ever heard of comes from stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Remember him? Or maybe you’re too young to know who Seinfeld is, but he starred in his own TV sitcom, “Seinfeld,” which ran from 1989 to 1998.

When he was just starting his career as a comic, Seinfeld developed a very effective technique to help him keep good work habits. He called it “don’t break the chain,” and it can work for you as well.

Seinfeld believed that to achieve success as a comic, he had to write better jokes, and the way to do that was to write them every day. He took an oversized calendar with an entire year on one page and hung it on his wall. Every day when he wrote  jokes, he put a big red X on that day on the calendar and after a few days had a chain with all the Xs linked together.

If he decided not to work one day, he wouldn’t be able to put in an X on the calendar for that day and would break the chain. He never wanted to do that, and you shouldn’t either.

The goal of this exercise is to never break the chain. Take your job search one day at a time, and never stop. Do what you set out to do each morning to achieve your goal.

By doing this and using a calendar to record your efforts, you’ll build momentum in your job search. Sometimes it may seem that you’re not getting anywhere, but like Jerry Seinfeld, you won’t reach your goal without continuously working toward it. It’s not possible to force someone to hire you, but day by day, little by little, step by step, you are setting the stage to ensure your success.

Keep on plugging away. Don’t break the chain.


NIC offers free training and info for job developers

If you’d like to learn how to better deal with helping ex-offenders find jobs, the National Institute of Corrections offers some excellent training programs and information that are available free of charge on its website.

As an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons, the NIC conducts onsite training programs for corrections agencies and their partners, but anyone can take advantage of what it offers online and use the information and manuals to create or enhance their own training curriculum.

One of these training programs, “OES: Building Bridges,” highlights the work of OES (Offender Employment Specialist) professionals in jails, prisons, probation and parole, community corrections, community-based organizations, and faith-based organizations. Various professionals give examples of best practices, and show how to overcome challenges, and identify tools and strategies for improving outcomes in offender employment. A free manual that includes a suggested three-day training schedule can be ordered on the website.

Those working within the prison system or who want to find out how things work at career resource centers within jails and prisons can order the “Career Resource Centers: An Emerging Strategy for Improving Offender Employment Outcomes” bulletin to learn more.

NIC also provides a tool for ex-offenders to use in their job search – a CD with a simulated online/kiosk job application designed to give people an opportunity to practice completing an online job application with tips on how to do it

While these three items are the most useful the NIC has to offer, it has other publications with research and information of interest to job developers both within and outside of the prison system.

For more information and to order materials, visit, and click on “library resources” at the bottom of the page.


I Have a Bean created to hire ex-offenders

I Have a Bean employees show off the coffee they are so proud of in their roasting plant.


At Jails to Jobs we’re always on the lookout for employers who are ex-offender friendly, but it’s rare to find a company established with the express purpose of hiring them. During a search through the Twitterverse looking for like-minded people to follow, we discovered Second Chance Coffee Co. of Wheaton, Ill, a company whose mission is just that.

It all began in 2005 when Pete Leonard, one of the company’s founders and current CEO and roast master, led a mission trip to Brazil to help build a church. There he discovered the best coffee he had ever experience. Inspired by the fact that the farmer who grew it was able to make such incredible coffee by roasting the beans over an open fire using rudimentary equipment, Leonard decided to teach himself how to roast coffee on his Weber gill.

At about the same time, his brother-in-law was arrested and imprisoned and upon release couldn’t find a job. That, along with getting to know a volunteer at a Chicago halfway house, and a desire to expand his coffee roasting business compelled Leonard to create Second Chance Coffee Co.

In 2007, Leonard and his partners incorporated, rehabbed a commercial building into a micro-roasting plant and designed a software-controlled coffee-roasting machine to create coffee with exceptional quality sold under the “I Have a Bean” brand. “It usually takes two years to learn how to roast coffee,” Leonard says. “It only takes 30 minutes to learn how to operate our machines, but it will still take two years to learn all that’s going on behind the scenes. People can learn the fundamentals but produce perfect coffee the first time they roast it.”

With the facility in place, he began to hire what he calls “post-prison” people through his partner’s halfway house connection. All of his employees are ex-offenders. In fact that is a requirement of the job. “We look at people’s references and at FBI background checks to make sure they’ve been in prison,” he says. “In this economy all kinds of people are looking for work. Some of them apply who haven’t been in prison. They need to check that box.

They also need to be part of – or a graduate of – a post-prison program, which could be anything from AA to drug rehab or any of the available city or state post-prison programs.

From the 35 post-prison employees who have worked at Second Chance Coffee Co. over the past few years, a few stand out. “Our very first roaster, Jim, a former drug dealer in Chicago who was in prison for 19 years, now has a family and is working for a large utility company, making $85,000 per year managing mechanics,” Leonard says.

Another employee, John, is a part owner of the company. “He has done an enormous amount of work for us. He’d been a six-figure white-collar earner but worked for us for a number of months for free. His contribution was far in excess of what we’ve been able to pay him, so we gave him part of the company,” he adds.

And we can’t forget the coffee itself. I Have a Bean is now at 11 Whole Foods Markets in the Chicago area and was the No. 1 selling coffee – out of 90 different types – at the four stores where it first was sold. Most sales come from the company website, however, with the coffee roasted to order and shipped out that day.

The formula must work. Second Chance has doubled its business every year and is expecting continued growth. To handle that growth, Leonard plans to create 50 plants across the nation. “Organizations dealing with post-prisoners are begging us to open roasting plants in their communities,” he says.

Based on his calculation, Leonard says that if each roasting plant hires 21 full-time and another 20-part-time employees, he’ll be the biggest post-prison employer in the world. “We want to be an example to every other company that they can take a risk and employ those people who have checked the box. There doesn’t have to be any difference in quality if employees have been in prison or not.”

For more information or to order some Ethiopia Harrar, Colombia Antioquia Don Rigo Estate, Mexico Ojo de Aqua Decaf or other coffee visit


Texas program fosters inmate entrepreneurs

We at Jails to Jobs love to hear about other programs that are helping those incarcerated find gainful employment upon release, and we heard about one recently that may be unrivaled.

Based at Cleveland State Prison in Cleveland, Texas, the Prison Entrepreneurship Program acts on the belief that exceptional talent exists behind bars, and that many inmates were actually successful entrepreneurs. The only problem is they ran illegal businesses.

It all began in 2004 when former Wall Street executive and UC Berkeley Haas School of Business alumnus Catherine Rohr toured a prison. Impressed by the passion and business acumen she found among inmates, Rohr left her investment career to create the Prison Entrepreneurship Program.

PEP operates at the Cleveland Correctional Facility, a 520-bed pre-release facility in Cleveland, Texas.  The organization works with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to identify potential male participants from correctional facilities throughout the state. Only 15 to 30 percent of those who apply are accepted. Those chosen are relocated to Cleveland.

Whether in for murder, robbery or drug dealing – only sexual crimes disqualify one from participating – applicants must have a GED or high school diploma, be within three years of release, have no current gang affiliation, and, perhaps most importantly, be committed to change.

During the five-month prison program, participants study a curriculum combining that of the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship and the Kauffman Foundation’s FastTrac. At the same time, each inmate creates a business plan with the help of his own business plan advisor. Business executives and MBA students from around the nation attend events at the prison, where they listen to pitches and offer one-on-one advice on business plans in progress. The whole program culminates with a business plan competition, similar to the type that business schools put on. The participants give 30-minute presentations, judged by a panel of executives. The competition is followed by a formal graduation ceremony.

But the program doesn’t end there. PEP provides an array of post-release  support services, which begin upon release from prison. Because studies show that inmates are most vulnerable following the first 72 hours of release, PEP case managers escort participants to their new homes or halfway houses. PEP provides transportation to appointments and job interviews, resume advice and career counseling, and clothing for interviews, as well as job referrals, including to members of the organization’s executive network.

Parolees can participate in the organization’s eSchool – Entrepreneurship School – at University of Houston-Downtown and the University of Dallas. After four weeks, eSchool students are paired with an executive, who serves as their mentor.

Upon completing 16 classes they graduate from the program and are eligible for small business financing from the organization’s network of angel investors.

PEP graduates also have access to consultants through PEP’s network who can help them with various aspects of their business and who may on occasion offer them contracts.

From start to finish PEP is a unique program, and its statistics are impressive. PEP has graduated more than 600 participants, who have launched more than 75 businesses. About 90 percent find employment within 90 days of release, and the program has engaged more than 570 MBA volunteers from 40 programs.

For more information, visit

Dave’s Killer Bread is inspiration for ex-felons

Dave at work making Dave’s Killer Bread.

I’m convinced that there are ex-offender success stories all around us. You just have to be on the lookout for them.

It happened to me the other day at Safeway. I was in the bread aisle trying to decide what to buy, when a bold wrapper like I’d never seen before caught my eye. The words “Dave’s Killer Bread” screamed out from the shelf. My first thought was maybe this was made by an ex-offender or maybe it’s just “killer” good. As it turns out, it is both.

First about the bread. The loaf I bought, Powerseed, is all organic, full of fiber, slightly sweet – thanks to the inclusion of three types of juices – and contains countless seeds, a better mixture and more of them than I think I’ve ever seen in commercial bread.

The bread is impressive, but the guy who developed it is even more so. Dave Dahl spent a total of 15 years in four trips to prison for crimes of theft and dealing methamphetamines. Although he was trained in computer aided drafting/machining while incarcerated and thought he would continue that career upon release, the poor food in prison inspired a desire to work in his parent’s bakery business once again, as he had when he was younger.

Dave longed for tasty wholesome bread just like that baked by his father, a Seventh Day Adventist who pioneered sprouted wheat breads and was determined to change the world by encouraging healthy eating through the products he sold at his neighborhood bakery in Portland. That bakery later became NatureBake and was sold to his son, Dave’s brother.

Once released from his last prison stint in late 2004, Dave decided to rejoin the family business with his brother and was put in charge of bread development. The result is Dave’s Killer Bread. The company now makes 17 different types of breads, all organic and mostly low fat and high fiber. The tag line, “Just Say No to Bread on Drugs,” will give you an idea of just how far baker Dave has come.

His bread is sold at stores in Oregon, Washington, California, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Nevada and can also be mail-ordered online at

In addition to making great bread, Dave has made it a point to help others like himself. From a handful of employees, the company has grown to about 240 workers, 30 percent of whom are ex-felons.

And my story just shows that there are job leads and ideas in places you’d least expect – like the aisles of a major grocery store. Where are you going to find yours?


How to close the referral gap

The referral gap is a barrier that job developers must deal with on a regular basis.

People often need to go to a referral resource to deal with their barriers, but many won’t go. Larry Robbin, a nationally known expert in the area of workforce development, offers advice on how to close that gap and ensure that job seekers with hidden barriers to employment seek out the extra help they need.

Here are a few ways to make sure that happens:

  • Organize a partner agency referral system and cross train each other. Through that process you can try to find a crack in the system that no agency is dealing with and collaborate on finding a funding source to take care of it.
  • Introduce the notion of referrals to your clients early on. In the orientation say you don’t know everything about everything and you will refer them to specialists who can help them.
  • Take photos of the resource. When Robbin’s clients did this so that job seekers could see exactly where they would be going, his clients increased referral throughput by 38 percent.
  • Sell the resource. Don’t just describe it. Tell them your track record with the resource. This will give clients the confidence that they’re not wasting their time.
  • Refer people to a person not a place, and sell them on that person. People will be much more likely to go if there’s a name and not just an address.
  • Use referral-resource alumni. Connect the job seeker to someone who has used that resource. That person can tell them – probably better than you could — about their experience and what it was like to go there.
  • Have your client make an appointment while they are meeting with you.
  • Position yourself as a referral-system advocate. Encourage them and talk up the resources.
  • Schedule a timely follow-up. Talk to clients right after they go to their appointments, either in person or on the phone. Get feedback and pass it on to the resource so they can improve their services.
  • Create an agreement that will encourage job seekers facing hidden barriers to succeed. It can have the following format:




Job seeker name:


Today I promise to take a big step forward to improve my life. Today I will



The benefits of doing this will be



The employment specialist agrees to help by



We agree to work together to make this important step as successful as possible.


______________________                __________________________

Client signature                                             Your signature


How to deal with hidden barriers

In our last post we defined hidden barriers to employment. In this one we are once again going to rely on Larry Robbin to help us determine how to deal with those barriers.

Here are a few tips:

  • The way for job developers to get people to talk about their barriers is to talk about their own first. A successful technique that Larry Robbin uses is to tell people his own hidden barriers to employment, such as the fact that he’s hard of hearing, is a cancer survivor and has PTSD.
  • Talk about common hidden barriers you see in your program. When you bring up the hidden barriers early, it starts people on the process of recognizing and working on them and can help lower their denial and resistance.
  • Talking about how you and your program helped people overcome these barriers gives a person hope. They will be more likely to be successful in eliminating the barrier.
  • Have people who have overcome hidden barriers speak in your group orientations.
  • Distribute a list of the most common hidden barriers to employment seen in your program with information on how they were overcome.
  • Work from a social systems model to get the input of others who know the jobseeker. Find out what these people know that you don’t know and what they see that you don’t see.
  • Have program participations, staff or other people who have overcome hidden barriers teach you how to spot them.
  • Celebrate the strength it took to acknowledge the barrier. Talk bout how this strength will help the jobseeker deal with that barrier. It’s important to celebrate the breakthroughs. Many people only concentrate on the negative stuff, not the good stuff.
  • Talk about how dealing with the barrier will not only help the individual but also the other people in their lives.
  • Conduct workplace tours and employer panels to get people comfortable with the idea of going back to work.

In the past two blog entries, we’ve dealt with defining and dealing with hidden barriers to employment. In our next entry, we’ll discuss how to close the referral gap.

Challenges facing job seekers

Hidden barriers to employment are rampant, especially for those in reentry. By their very nature these barriers may not be obvious, but they must be overcome if the job seeker is going to be successful.

Larry Robbin, a nationally known expert in the area of workforce development, gave participants at the 2011 Workforce Development Summit in San Jose, Calif. in November advice on just how to do it. But it’s far from easy, as many job developers and counselors know quite well.

Many people face barriers to employment that they don’t want to talk about. One out of three people have criminal records, for example, Robbin says. Ex-offenders may have other barriers as well, such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), illiteracy, or problems resulting from domestic or gang violence.

Why are these barriers to employment hidden? Because a lot of shame exists around the barrier, people are trained to hide them. And sometimes they don’t even know these barriers exist.

“The barrier may be so common in their world that they don’t see it as a barrier,” Robbin says. “If someone lives in an area where substance abuse is rampant or illiteracy is high, they might think that’s the norm.”

“Also, you’ll find that people with AIDs or criminal histories are afraid to disclose them, because they’re afraid they’ll be treated differently.”

You have to look at these barriers not just as barriers to employment but as barriers to retention and advancement once they get the job.

Here are some of the most common examples:

  • PTSD. Although one always associates post-traumatic stress disorder with soldiers returning from battle, homeless people test at three times the level of PTSD that combat veterans have. About 75 percent of the incoming freshman class at Compton High in L.A. has PTSD because of all the killings they’ve seen.
  • Relationship control and domestic violence. This can be either from gangs or dating. We should ask job seekers “How do you make decisions?” Is there someone you turn to make decisions and is that healthy, or is someone trying to control that? Once you know the situation you can work with them.
  • Traumatic brain injury. One in four returning vets have this. Babies and kids who have experienced shaken baby syndrome also may have this condition, which can produce memory loss and reading issues.
  • Unsafe or unstable living situations. People couch surfing or doing a lot of partying may have trouble in interviews, because they’re not sleeping well.
  • Fear of leaving income support systems (welfare). One way to get over this barrier is to bring in role models who’ve left welfare and been successful.
  • Drug and or alcohol problems. Heavy alcohol or drug use can result in memory loss.
  • Fear of the world of work. This is a huge hidden barrier. In the fast food industry, 43% of people don’t show up for their first day of work after being hired. In all jobs across the board, 25% of new employees don’t show up.
  • Criminal history. This will be handled in different ways depending on the type of crime committed.
  • Literacy problems. People who are illiterate or semi-literate have special problems that must be dealt with.

Now that hidden barriers have been defined, in our next blog entry we’ll talk about how to deal with them.