Earning an education can be the start of turning an individual's life around.
For almost 40 prisoners incarcerated at the United States Army Regional Confinement Facility, Joint Base Lewis-McChord Main, the opportunity of making that turn is a reality.
Formerly known as the Fort Lewis Regional Correction Facility, the Level II medium-custody facility closed in 2008 to allow for needed renovations. The facility reopened in July of last year with improvements such as upgraded air circulation and ventilation systems, outdoor and emergency lighting, improved plumbing and fixtures, paint, enhancements to the physical security system, an improved fire control system, and the installation of a running track in the exercise yard.
The facility houses a fair number of pre-trial or post-trial prisoners with sentences from one day to seven years.
The prisoner's work detail includes chopping wood, which is distributed around post and they also produce crafts, which are made for sale on base. Along with the physical upgrades, there is now a well-defined series of vocational training programs.
"These programs allow the prisoners to gain hands-on instruction for a skill that will help when they leave here," said Sgt. Maj. Michael Borlin, the facility's top enlisted soldier.
Prisoners can take courses in culinary arts, barbering, horticulture/landscaping, and carpentry (millwork and cabinetmaking). All four of the programs include a mixture of lecture and lab and are supplemented with hands-on learning.
In August of this year, Clover Park Technical College was awarded a five-year, $1.3 million contract to provide the vocational training classes for the prisoners at the facility.
"These programs give the prisoners a skill set to use when they are released," commented Brett Dziedziak, the carpentry instructor, as he walked through the large, well lit shop. He pointed out some of the flag boxes, coin holders and picture frames prisoners had made. "The prisoners here are over willing to be in the program and completing the assigned projects."
The four programs began in mid-September and are in progress for about six hours daily.
To encourage completion of the courses, the college awards certificates of completion to the prisoners for their hours of study each time they complete a module of training.
"At this stage, the program is working well," explained Staff Sgt. Gregory Taylor, the facility's employment noncommissioned officer in charge.
Prisoners who do well in the programs may earn the privilege of becoming helpers to the college's instructors and, possibly, taking days off their sentences.
The facility's vocational programs focus on allowing prisoners to gain relevant and marketable job skills prior to their reentering society. It also allows the prisoners to produce goods that will benefit the installation.
"Some of the plants we'll grow in these greenhouses will beautify the base," said Joshua Kollman, the landscape/horticulture instructor, as he walked through a newly built greenhouse.
"This is a good program," added Taylor. "It gives these prisoners the skills to fall back on when they are discharged."