Locked Up and Learning: Vocational Training Behind Bars Part I

By Camaron Abundes   
NewsWest 9

FORT STOCKTON- Behind the chain link fence and razor wire, prisoners at the Lynaugh Unit in Fort Stockton are learning the building blocks of a trade. Alonzo Rosales hopes this time he can use his new found knowledge to stay out of jail.

"It's never too late," he said when asked if it's too late for him.

Rosales says a life of drugs and hanging with the wrong crowd cost him his freedom.

"I got my GED the last time I was in trouble, and this time I will progress my knowledge and maybe this time I will stay away from those people next time," he said with a smile.

Dozens of inmates, all with their own story, work together in Master Plumber Lee Wilson's workroom.
"This is something I look forward to every morning when I wake up," Rosales said. "I want to learn as much as I can, and I want to take that knowledge back to the world and actually make some money by what I've learned in here, that's a good thing for me."

Every six months, a new crop of students enter level 1 plumbing and pipe fitting.

"They can't help but learn," Wilson said, "and some of them get more hungry and do more."

Wilson says the state's only option to reduce recidivism is to teach inmates how to make a living.

"We can put them back on the street without any kind of training or we can try to give them some skills so they can go out and become productive members of society," he said the choice is clear.

Rosales wants the training, he paid 15 dollars to enter his name into the National Center for Construction Education and Research database. Wilson says big companies use the database as a hiring tool, and it can help former inmates land a job.

"I can see myself doing it and I can also see myself looking back at this situation that I am in, and thinking wow I did it. I am not just another statistic," Rosales said.

According to a August 2000 report prepared for the Criminal Justice Policy Council just 21 percent of inmates who leave prison end up working in the trade they've earned a certificate in.

Wilson says there are success stories and it's a proven way to keep inmates from re-offending.

Be sure to tune in to NewsWest 9 @ 10 on Thursday to see how the Basics are taught from behind bars.