CHARLESTON, Maine — About 70 juveniles and adults who aren’t able to seek out education and career opportunities while behind bars had those opportunities come to them on Tuesday.
Eleven vendors from colleges, employers and career centers filled the gymnasium at the Mountain View Youth Development Center on Tuesday morning. About 45 juveniles from the center toured the vendors to ask questions and view prospects for life outside of the center. About 25 adults from the Charleston Correctional Facility, which sits adjacent to the youth center, did the same later in the morning.
“It’s designed to allow these guys that we house here at our correctional complex to do normal stuff that normal guys get to do,” said Pat Gillis, program director for Jobs for Maine’s Graduates, a statewide nonprofit organization which sponsored the event. “The whole idea is about getting them back into the communities with the tools they need to be productive.”
Gillis said this event is a first for Maine corrections facilities.
Representatives from the University of Maine at Augusta, Eastern Maine Community College, United Technology Center, Beal College, AtWork, Maine Department of Transportation, Women Unlimited, Maine CareerCenter, Maine Adult Education, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 1253 and Cianbro all set up at tables to talk with inmates.
“I’ve gotten a lot of interest,” said Chris Trider, training director with IBEW Local 1253 based in Fairfield. “I’ve heard a lot of people saying, ‘I like working with my hands. I need to be doing something with my hands.’ That’s basically what we do in construction — build stuff.”
Many of the inmates collected brochures and business cards in order to do further research.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for the inmates to know that there are things out there and people will still hire you with the background you have now,” said Paul Folsom, a 42-year-old inmate at the facility. “The biggest thing in my life now is getting back to work and to get to where I can support my wife and my kids.”
Joe Denbow, a 47-year-old inmate at the facility, said he was most interested in seeing what the colleges had to offer.
“I want to get into a welding course,” he said. “That was my biggest goal, to get more information on that. [EMCC] has a one- to two-year course. I’ll do more research on that.”
Denbow said it’s important for inmates nearing their release to have an opportunity to make connections and to see what’s available.
“I want to get out and have something to work with instead of getting out and standing there dumbfounded and no money in your pocket,” Denbow said.
Jeff Morin, director of the Charleston Correctional Facility, said he was pleased to see so many inmates engage with the vendors.
“These guys having opportunities when they leave the facility is key to them not coming back into the system,” said Morin. “Whether it’s having an opportunity in education or learning more about possible job opportunities and making those connections, they can follow up [with them] in their stay with us.”
Trider said IBEW Local 1253 doesn’t have any hesitation hiring one of these inmates once released.
“We give everybody the same opportunity to apply,” said Trider. “The committee that does the interviews bases their selection on the attitude and interest in getting in the program and showing a strong desire to get in. We’ll give you that opportunity.”
Gillis said employers and colleges have visited the facility in the past, but never so many at once. She said she hopes to see similar career and college fairs throughout the corrections system in the future.