Shawnee Correctional Center training future welders

The Illinois Prison system wants to provide a spark for inmates leaving lock up and getting back into the workforce
Published: Dec. 16, 2022 at 5:25 PM CST
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VIENNA, Ill. (KFVS) - The Illinois prison system wants to provide a spark for inmates leaving lockup and getting back into the workforce.

On Friday, December 16 we got a first-hand look at how Shawnee Correctional Center is training future welders.

“Getting the work experience that they got here was huge for them, but more than that, it’s getting used to getting up and going to work everyday,” said Eric Goins, Shawnee Correctional Center Metal Shop superintendent.

Goings said inmates in his program learn a variety of metalworking skills such as welding, powder coating, grinding, plasma cutting and more

James Manuel has been locked up since his late teens. He joined this program knowing it would be another chance to make a living when he gets released.

“I’ve just recently became a certified welder, I know how to bend metal, I’m in an apprenticeship program currently for metal fabrication so I do bends, cuts, things of that nature,” he explained.

Manuel has more than four years remaining on his sentence, but he said the skills he is learning will help him provide for his family.

“It’s important, so I can be ready. When I got locked up, I was 19 years old, I had no skills, I was a lost kid. But since I’ve been in these programs, I feel like I can be a productive member of society,” Manuel said.

Terry Albrecht is expected to be released in 10 months. He recently became a certified welder and is thankful he learned these skills.

“I’ve been incarcerated a long time, so it’s great to have something to fall back on when I get out and get me a job so I can be comfortable and not have to worry about earning a living,” Albrecht said.

Michael Belmont shared how important it is to pick up on new tools.

“It feels as if we come in to work and it gives us the opportunity to be able to learn new skills and to learn trades and what not. And it’s very relaxing to be able to get out of the cell and enjoy it here,” he said.

Nine people became certified welders, as of last Monday, through the American Welding Society certification for the first time.

Goins said he’s had five people that are now out of prison and using their skills in the workforce.

This national registry allows for portability and for potential employers to verify certification of any individual before or after leaving custody.

“They know it’s a tool when they get out that will help them make better choices. ‘Cause there’s going to be better choices to choose from by having that,” Goins said.

He also said that major companies are reaching out for potential jobs.

“They’ll reach out, whether it’s caterpillar, ROHN, different fabrication shops up north. And then I got some that are currently in a work release that’s also working at those places right now,” he continued.