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The Road to Opportunities

July 10, 2019

By Alexandra Barton

DOC Communications

(Alexandra Barton, DOC Communications)

INFOGRAPHIC: Sustainability in Prisons Project

TUMWATER – For the past year, the Department of Corrections has teamed with the Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT) to provide those releasing into the community a chance to work for the state. DOT’s workforce development manager, Alvina Mao, said that some of the department’s main values are diversity and inclusion, and this collaboration helped them reach those goals.

“It was a great partnership from the beginning,” Mao said. “Having such an environmentally focused group, and a great environmental office here (at DOT) that was willing to be our early adopters and see what it was like has been just the perfect match of discovering employment opportunities.”

Mao said that DOT’s secretary, Roger Millar, wanted to focus on forming reentry programs to give the population returning into the community a second chance. DOT staff began visiting correctional facilities and connected with those working in Correctional Industries and Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP), a partnership between Corrections and Evergreen State College.

“We just dove right into it and started meeting people, and the technical training that they were learning behind bars was amazing,” Mao said.

Darin Armstrong, a previously incarcerated individual, has benefitted from the state agency partnership. Armstrong released in November 2018, and, in December, he was hired by DOT as a natural resource technician.

“Some of these things can be taught, and there is a lot of people who are willing and they need the opportunity to show that they can learn,” Armstrong said. “Just because people make a mistake and they end up in prison doesn’t mean that they’re a bad person and that they can’t learn.”

Armstrong was a participant of SPP while he was an inmate of Cedar Creek Corrections Center. He joined many SPP programs such as aquaponics, turtle rehabilitation and release, and woodpecker nest research. The skills he learned through these programs came in handy when applying to work for the state.

“I worked with several diverse groups of men, and worked as a team rather than individually, which a lot of people in prison do,” Armstrong said. “I kind of put myself out there to take these programs and the opportunities to learn rather than just sit back and do my time.”

While Armstrong was still incarcerated, he worked with staff from DOT and SPP to learn how to write cover letters and create a resume that showcased the new skills he learned and how they could be applied to state jobs. He encourages those who are still incarcerated to take advantage of programs.

“If people start to take things seriously and figure out enough is enough in life, and they want the opportunity to grow, the opportunities can start in prison,” Armstrong said.

Partnerships like this help the department in its mission to improve public safety. Providing inmates with opportunities for employment after release can provide new skills, help smoothen reentry, and reduce recidivism.

Mao expressed her enthusiasm to continue to work with Corrections and SPP to introduce new possibilities to hardworking people like Armstrong that they might have never considered otherwise.

“Really, I think our message has been that we are open to hiring people who are currently incarcerated, as long as someone is motivated and willing to learn something,” Mao said. “I just think that it’s an exciting opportunity for both the person who’s been previously incarcerated as well as our agency, and is just going to be a win-win in the end.”