|Accessing the future|
|By Ann Coppola, News Reporter|
These days, if you want to promote yourself or your organization, you need more than a website; a well-designed, eye-catching, and fun-to-use website is a must. Capitalizing on the growing need for graphic designers, the Interactive Graphic Media and Web Design program at Ohio’s London Correctional Facility teaches inmates basic Web design skills and helps them get a foot in the door to a booming and agile industry.
Now in its third year, the program draws exclusively from the “honor camp” at London, which only houses inmates who are within five years of their release date and have no capital offenses. The camp is the only dorm in Ohio not surrounded by razor wire or a fence of any kind.
“I have a total of 15 networked computers in little stand-alone workstations,” instructor Steve Galloway says.
The classes run Monday through Friday totaling six and a half hours of instruction per day, and Galloway has a lot to get through.
“I have 13 units in my program,” he says, “and we get through it all in about 130 days. In all reality though, you could spend at least 500 hours on each of the design programs: Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, and Dreamweaver.”
Galloway doesn’t just jump right into browsers and URLs though.
“As soon as we start, we cover safety and classroom procedures, so they don’t sit at the computers for an extended stretch of time,” he says. “Some of the guys can get glued to the computer, and we have to remind them to get up and stretch out.”
The students participate in a guided project before they strike out to design their own “real life” projects for non-profit clients.
“A website can’t be very well orchestrated unless you have a good plan to start with,” Galloway explains. “First I set the guys up with a design procedure to follow verbatim. For the client projects, they are free to form all of their own concepts: to make a flow chart, form the layout of the site and everything.”
Some of projects they’ve completed so far are a website for the non-profit Books4kids2keep.com and a brand new logo and site for the Correctional Education Association, launched this August.
“With CEA, I divided the class into three groups of four and made each group figure out the strong suits of its members and divvy up assignments,” Galloway explains. “I essentially turned each group into its own agency.”
The collaboration gave Galloway even more than he needed.
“We actually ended up with three whole websites,” he says. “We looked at it all as a class, picked out the positives and negatives, and then I just put together the one site using pieces from all of their individual work.”
The completed projects become part of each inmate’s portfolio that they can show employers once they’re released. To help inmates with this, some of the units explain how to navigate the business aspect of graphic design.
“I try and give them enough understanding of the industry so they can actually do their own freelancing once they’re released,” Galloway says. “We cover portfolio development and help them with their resume and cover letters.”
Galloway has to prepare the inmates for a fast-paced business.
“It’s quick turnaround in this industry,” he says. “If you do get a client, they expect it done in two weeks tops unless you’re designing a full-blown site.”
There are also the everyday aspects of client service to think about.
“We discuss a little bit of the traditional office communications like email,” Galloway adds. “Unfortunately some of these guys never were emailing prior to coming into the program. Given the nature of the industry, especially if you’re freelancing, you could be working on a project based out of Alaska even though you’re in the Midwest. You have to be able to clearly communicate with a client without meeting face to face.”
Remarkably, Galloway is able to teach all of these skills even though the inmates are not allowed Internet access.
“When I was originally hired they were kicking around the idea of Internet access for the inmates and I set up the computers with lots of security,” Galloway says. “But it ended up not being a reality, so what I do is download entire websites and put them on our own Internet server system. I deliver all the sites for the different units we cover and projects we undertake.”
The blocked Internet access isn’t the only challenge Galloway’s faced.
“I’ve had a lot of difficulty with staff having the stigma against convicts learning computer skills on taxpayer dollars,” he says. “I try to basically tell them it’s a gainful employment opportunity. These men are going back to the street and this is better than getting locked up again.”
The results from the program have been very promising.
“One individual that’s been released has contacted me and told me he’s doing freelance work,” Galloway says. “A few students have told me they’re enrolled in college now. So, some are going on to higher education after the program, which is great.”
Next time you’re browsing the Web, keep an eye out for the words ‘Designed by IGM&WD.’ Then you’ll know you’re not looking at just a website, but someone’s opportunity for a brighter future.
Visit the new CEA site
More about the program
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