|CRCC Instructor Leads Inmates to New Careers|
|By Andrew Garber, Washington Department of Corrections|
CONNELL — When students tell Kara Caicedo they have no hope of getting a good job because the only thing they've done in life is sell drugs, she tries to find a silver lining.
"I tell them ways to use that as a strength, like 'well, that means you're really good at sales and marketing,' " she said.
Caicedo's students are inmates at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center outside the Tri-Cities. Her job is to help them find careers that will keep them from coming back to prison after release.
Coyote Ridge has a two pronged approach: Caicedo teaches a job search class that helps students identify jobs that pay enough money for them to survive on. She also offers a college readiness course, now in a pilot stage, which signs inmates up for college so they can learn the skills they need. Research shows >incarcerated people who get an education are much less likely to commit new crimes than those who don't.
Caicedo, 30, an instructor for Walla Walla Community College at the prison, describes herself as "pushy. I'm pretty pushy."
She recalled one inmate who informed her "'I already have a job when I get out. My uncle is going to help me sell tires,'" she said. "I was like 'yeah, well if that job was really working for you before, you might not be here.'"
Using a budget tool that showed the median cost of living in the county where he'd be released, Caicedo proved to the man he'd need to make more money to support himself.
He was initially despondent, saying "'I'm a big nobody, and nobody will hire me,'" Caicedo said. "I had to work with him to identify things he's good at. We finally got to the point where I said, 'You're going to have to go back to school.'
"He was excited after that," she said. "He was like 'I can go back to school? DOC will let me go?' I'm like, 'yeah.'"
That's where the college readiness course comes in. Caicedo helps them apply for financial aid, register for classes and guide them step by step through the entire process.
"It's stuff that people on the outside probably don't think about, but you're dealing with guys who probably never had anyone in their family go to college, never had anyone push them toward higher education, and had teachers who passed them just to get them out of their class," she said. "It's not a matter of them not wanting to go to college when they get out of here, it's that they didn't even know it was an option for them."
"She squared everything away. A lot of us inmates in here skipped that part of our lives, you know, so she helped us figure out if we had indeed signed up, or if we haven't. She looked to see if we could get our drivers licenses so that we'd have transportation to and from school. Stuff like that."
Jackson, 35, noted that the "transition of being an inmate to being free is hard alone. Without any direction and any help of knowing where to go, after I walk out of these gates, I mean you just go back to what's comfortable. And that's what led me here. I don't want to come back here. I'm grateful that she was able to help me. I think it's going to benefit me, and my family as well."
Caicedo says her job has its drawbacks. "It's a 45 hour class, but I probably spend 70 to 80 hours for each class. Sometimes, it's like why am I doing this? I'm staying here late, I'm working through my lunch."
But then she'll get emails from former students who've left prison and enrolled in college and are doing well.
"I actually printed one that I got and it's hanging in my cubicle by my computer screen so that I can see it," she said. "It's so much bigger than me giving up my lunch break. These are lives we are changing and there are communities that are impacted. Those emails are what keep me going."
Andrew Garber has more than 30 years’ experience as a reporter at daily newspapers in South Carolina, Florida, Maine, Idaho and Washington. He spent 14 years at The Seattle Times with most of that time as a statehouse reporter covering the governor's office, the Legislature and state government. He joined the Washington Department of Corrections in March 2015.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT