Fifty graduates of the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) received an industry-accredited job certification or apprenticeship at Pelican Bay State Prison. They were recognized for their completion of four different programs.
“We had a graduation here today to recognize incarcerated individuals who completed either job certification programs or apprenticeship programs in computer coding, AutoCAD, laundry, and our health care facilities maintenance programs,” said Bill Davidson, the general manager of California Prison Industry.
The goal of these programs is to set up incarcerated people for success when they return to their communities. Kevin Kelly, a former CALPIA graduate gave the commencement speech.
“It brings joy, it brings a confidence in myself, but also it’s putting me in a position to be able to reach back and help the people coming behind me,” said Kelly. “Which is all I’ve always wanted to do.”
Kelly adds that every choice he has made has led to his current life. He was incarcerated for four years and was released from prison in July 2021. Just last week, Kelly became manager of the re-entry department at the Last Mile–an in-prison training program with two areas of concentration, web development and audio and video production.
This program doesn’t just give graduates job skills they’ll need upon release. A CALPIA study found that 85% of individuals who spend six months or more in their program do not return to prison.
“I graduated because I completed the 450 series and what that is, is a series of five books and, you know, it cover[ed] floor care and cleaning and like, in hospital settings,” said Fernando Guisa, a CALPIA graduate. “Oh, it feels amazing. This is something that I haven’t experienced for a very long, long time. So it’s pretty good. I wasn’t able to get my family up here, but being around, you know, all you guys, it is very good. I feel special.”
The graduates celebrated this victory and for many, this is their first-ever graduation. “I’m learning life skills and I’m working on valuable employable skills, web development, design, [and] software engineering,” said Austin Varney, a CALPIA graduate.
“Things that can translate from here to the streets. Very successful. Very complicated. Really difficult. Challenging. But I’ve found a community in there and a facilitator, classmates, and mentors that have allowed me to take risks in my personal growth and my professional growth as a coder.”