Programs in Prisons Offer Fresh Starts for Residents

A-B Tech offers a variety of classes at correctional facilities in Buncombe and Madison counties to prepare residents for re-entry. Students can start with the basics in Transitional Studies to earn their High School Equivalency or take specific classes to start them in a new career. The department of Transitional Studies offers High School Equivalency (HSE) preparation classes at multiple facilities in both counties.

The UpSkill WNC program, funded by an Innovation Grant from the N.C. Department ofCommerce to the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board, is used to create more direct engagement with members of the community who encounter barriers to accessing higher education and sustainable wage jobs, including the justice involved.

A-B Tech hired Philip Cooper as a Career Navigator working with clients, employers and other organizations throughout Buncombe County. He has a caseload of about 30 clients, all justice involved, whom he helps with resumes, job coaching, and connections to jobs and resources. But, more important, he helps them stay on track and succeed. “The piece that was missing before was peer support,” Cooper said.

“The UpSkill WNC grant has given us the opportunity to expand tailored workforce support to the justice involved,” said Dr. Shelley White, A-B Tech’s vice president of Continuing Education and Workforce Development. “Philip is uniquely prepared to support students and community members seeking a positive step forward. He is an expert motivator and his approach is holistic, weaving resources together, connecting individuals to employers and resource partners.”

One of the favorite classes at the Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women is Foundations in Horticulture, taught by Sally Reeske. It’s a completely hands-on class that starts with seeds in a greenhouse in early spring, all the way to the harvest in late autumn. “The skills set these women get are also therapeutic,” Reeske said. “They work outside with the earth and they get to see the benefits of their work efforts.”

Culinary Fundamentals I and II are extremely popular classes at Craggy Correctional Center for Men. When the facility sent an announcement to all the state prisons to advertise the program, Craggy received more than 200 letters of interest to fill 12 spots.

Taught by Chef Albert LaRotonda, graduates of Culinary Fundamentals I are able to create beautiful hor d'oeuvres and a tasty appetizer, salad, entrees, breads and desserts after completing a 12-week class.

Craggy also offers the Quest for Success course offered through Continuing Education, where students can also earn the National Career Readiness Certificate and complete the Working Smart soft skills program.

Working Smart is a product of Charlotte Mecklenburg Workforce Development Partners that provide students with work and life skills that enhance employee productivity. This curriculum is taught by a certified “Working Smart” instructor.  

The Quest for Success program is a 552-hour course that began in 2016 as a partnership between the A-B Tech Human Resources Development program and the Craggy Correctional Center for Men to provide employability, life, and educational skills.

During this course, the students are taught computer competency skills, basic English and writing skills, building presentation and speech skills, along with successful life and student skills. This program also offers students selected assessments for career, life, education, and learning skills. When classes are in session, A-B Tech offers a total of 131 out of 408 Craggy inmates a seat in one of their classes.

“My team is proud to be an integral part of A-B Tech’s long-standing partnership with Craggy Correctional Center for Men,” said Cindy Messer, Workforce Continuing Education Director. “I’m continuously searching for opportunities to create new programs and expand course offerings to these men. While teaching them, they have enlightened me of other programs we could potentially offer that would help them regain their ability to enter the workforce. It is my goal that, through Continuing Education courses, they gain the skills necessary for sustainable employment and stability, which will drastically reduce recidivism.”

Other classes offered at area facilities are listed below:

Craggy Correctional Center

  • Facilities Maintenance
  • Thinking for a Change

Swannanoa Correctional Center

  • Computer Basics
  • Focus on Freedom
  • Hospitality Skills Training
  • Money Smart
  • Pathways to Employment
  • Petcare Provider
  • Petcare Technician
  • Thinking for a Change
  • Working Smart

Black Mountain Substance Abuse Treatment Center

  • Computer Basics
  • Hospitality START
  • Money Smart
  • Pathways to Employment
  • ServSafe Food Handler
  • WIN
  • Working Smart
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