Inmates graduate from warehouse program

Published 11:41 pm Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Matthew Marr, an inmate at Western Tidewater Regional Jail who participated in the warehouse and distribution center skills program, shakes the hands of the instructors and coordinators of the program at the graduation presentation Wednesday.

Inmates earn certificates for college work

In two weeks, Patrick White once again will be a free man, but he’ll be leaving Western Tidewater Regional Jail with something he didn’t have when he entered 10 months ago — nine college credit honors and certification for working in a warehouse.

During the course of nine weeks, White, who is serving time for evading police, and eight other inmates have worked diligently to complete the jail’s warehouse and distribution operations program.

The inmates celebrated completing the program Wednesday alongside instructors, coordinators and prison guards and received their certificates, which they can present to employers after they get out to show their initiative.

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“This is the first step to a new life,” White said. “With most of my friends dead or in jail, this is the second chance they never got.”

During the program, the inmates have taken classes on business basics, teamwork and factory operations, which included hands-on forklift training, and they earned credits that can be used toward a college degree.

The Paul D. Camp Community College program was first offered to its students in 2010 shortly after CenterPoint Properties announced its plan to build a warehouse and distribution center off of Route 58.

Randy Betz, the vice president for Paul D. Camp’s Workforce Development, said the college learned employers wanted trained workers who understood business and the need for warehouses.

The prisoners had to attend class for six hours, three days a week, to earn the certification, but despite the extra commitment, earning a spot in the program is fiercely competitive.

Ronnie Sharpe, the jail’s education director, said he looks for a variety of qualities when he selects students.

All the participants are “minimum custody” inmates, which means they have committed the least-violent crimes, such as driving under the influence and drug-related offenses. Additionally, Sharpe said, he looks for inmates with few or no write-ups and quality of character.

“I’m looking at them to find out their potential,” he said. “How do they feel about themselves? Do they want to make a change? Can they get along with others?”

The last question seems to be one that is a tough requirement for the inmates to meet.

White said learning how to work on a team and work with different personality types was the hardest part of the program.

“I’ve always done things on my own,” he said. “Learning to work with a team was new for me.”

Fellow inmate and graduate James Miller, who finishes a one-year sentence for violating his probation Dec. 31, said the teamwork element also gave him a hard time, but he thinks it the most important thing he learned.

“If everyone works together, everything will work out,” he said. “I think everything I learned in this program is also going to help me better understand my wife.”

Upon his release, White said, he’s not going waste his second chance.

“I’m going to get a job and go back to school,” he said. “I want to do them both at the same time.”

White said he will look to use his warehouse skills at first, but ultimately he wants to become an electrician or a HVAC technician.

“From there, there’s endless possibilities,” he said.

At the graduation ceremony, Miller told fellow graduates to remember what instructor Jeff Jacobs told them every class: Take charge and own it.

“We all took charge and we owned it, and that’s why we are graduating,” Miller said.