Groundbreaking at Mission Creek
September 11, 2018
Attendees shovel dirt during a TRAC program groundbreaking ceremony at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (Austin Paulino, DOC Communications)
BELFAIR – Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women held a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the start of construction on a new building to house the Trades Related Apprenticeship Coaching (TRAC) program.
“This is the day that we have waited for a long, long time,” Mission Creek Superintendent Dennis Tabb said.
TRAC is an educational and vocational program that offers training in career fields like carpentry, ironworking, and other skilled trades. Incarcerated women are given the chance to learn job skills and prepare themselves for their reentry into the community and job market.
Mission Creek is only the second state correctional facility, outside of Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), to have a TRAC program.
The program’s mission is to prepare inmates for competitive entry into union apprenticeships. Participants are taught self-confidence and various job skills to begin a career, earn a living wage and prosper as productive citizens, according to program officials. Since September 2013, there have been 102 graduates of the program, more than 40,000 hours worked, and over $1 million in wages earned by graduates of TRAC after release, according to Correctional Industries (CI).
Nicole Shaw, a former inmate at WCCW, participated in the TRAC program during her incarceration. She spoke highly of her experience in the program and how it impacted her reentry into the community. She’s become an established carpenter and laborer, having worked on many projects across the Puget Sound region.
“I can say I’m secure in my life,” Shaw said, due to the training and instructors of her TRAC classes. Shaw added she has not had more than a month of unemployment in the four years since her release from prison. She proudly added that she had recently bought her own house.
Shaw expressed amazement that people are working so hard to bring and expand the program to a new home at Mission Creek. Under TRAC guidance, Shaw learned skills that are key to the work of laborers, iron workers, and carpenters.
“I couldn’t ask for anything better,” she said.
TRAC’s support and focus, not only on skills but also on work ethic, was part of Shaw’s reflection as she thought back on her TRAC time. “You can live some other way.”
She implored other inmates to take advantage of the program while they had the chance, “I have completely changed my life,” Shaw said.
The program provides incarcerated students with the training and skills necessary to increase their chances of getting hired at a job with living wages after their prison release. The goal of the program is to give its students the best chance at becoming a productive member of their community, program officials said. It also works to ease the reentry process with interview preparation and job networking.
John Brown and Steven Petermann are TRAC program instructors who played instrumental roles in the planning and design of Mission Creek’s new building.
“We’re putting TRAC graduates to work,” Petermann, the program’s instructor at WCCW, said as he teared up on stage at the ceremony.
John Brown is the new TRAC instructor at Mission Creek, and he’s a part of the TRAC expansion team that started in September 2017. Brown spoke about the building plans at the ceremony and emphasized the leadership support provided by the Washington Correction Center for Women in Gig Harbor. The new building project also served as an opportunity to give current TRAC students from the original program some hands on, extended experience on a real project.
“I guarantee it’s the biggest project TRAC students have done,” Brown said.
At the ceremony, Brown and others emphasized the drive to reduce costs throughout the process. The cost reduction fell in two main areas: labor finances and electrical expenditures.
First, Brown said that they worked to include current Mission Creek program participants in the building, saving over $185,000 in direct labor costs. Secondly, Brown said that their planning team made plans to self-excavate electrical lines to power the unit’s composting facility and save $80,000 by avoiding an outside hire.
All in all, the team worked to save approximately $265,000 in the planning phase. The use of pre-engineered pole buildings, volunteer labor unions outside of incarcerated work crews and various self-installment processes contributed to the savings, according to Brown. “Stewardship of the dollar has been a guiding team value since day one of the planning process,” he said.
The TRAC program has been around for more than 20 years. It currently has more than 30 registered apprentices in the trade industry with more graduates after each session of the program.
One of the common themes throughout the ceremony was the notion of gratitude and appreciation for the time and effort program staff have spent to make this day happen.
“A lot of working together, teamwork, and efforts have come together today for this groundbreaking ceremony,” Mission Creek superintendent Dennis Tabb shared with the audience at the start of the program.
Assistant Secretary of Administrative Operations Jeannie Miller also emphasized the work and time that had gone into the project being started. Recounting her time with CI, Miller said, “It was 10 years ago that I had my first site visit to Mission Creek and it was to look at TRAC space, so this has been a long process.”
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment of carpenters, construction laborers, and iron workers is expected to increase between 8 and 13 percent from 2016 to 2026.
Chris Poulos, executive director of the Statewide Reentry Council, spoke to increased employment options during his speech at the ceremony. “Internal change matched with external opportunity, that’s what TRAC can provide.” Poulos also emphasized the connection between opportunity and readiness: “The chances of going back to prison, if opportunity meets readiness, are essentially zero.”
Department of Corrections Deputy Secretary Julie Martin said TRAC represents a change; when a person learns a new skill, it opens up doors to places they never thought possible.
“You don’t get that opportunity [to change] very often, and when it does grab ahold of it with gusto and don’t let go,” Martin said.