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Workforce Readiness

Sheridan Federal Correctional Institution Volunteer Event 
Written by Pamela Mack

Recently, our PHRMA Workforce Readiness co-Directors (Mic Fleming and Heidi Mason) and I had an opportunity to teach some workshops at the Federal Prison in Sheridan. To tell you the truth, I was excited/curious but also a intimidated/scared to be going inside a prison and talking to inmates. I really had no idea what to expect, which increased my anxiety about agreeing to go. I wanted to write about our experience so that if you have an interest in volunteering for our upcoming Mock Interviews at Sheridan (more information coming soon) you could make a decision with a good idea of what to expect.

 

Prior to volunteering, we received a background screening disclosure that had to be processed before we were accepted as speakers, and then we received a list of appropriate clothing to wear (modest, nothing tan colored, no metal of any kind)  and a list of items not to bring in with us (cell phones, weapons, illegal substances). The 3 of us met to carpool in Tualatin, and headed out to Sheridan, which was about an hour’s drive from there.

 

Driving in we could see the prison from a distance, and honestly, it looked like a college campus (except for the razor wire). The grounds were really beautiful, and there were acres of vegetable gardens. Checking in at Medium Security on the first day was a bit intimidating. Signing a waiver, relinquishing my photo ID, going through a metal detector, and then getting a stamp on my hand (only visible by a UV light) had me a bit nervous. (Oh, and we met the warden as he went through security also…! That was a surprise.) We went through a door into an entry way, it shut behind us, and then another was unlocked before us with a loud click. That was the last moment I felt intimidated.

 

Leaving that space escorted by John Kincaid, who runs the re-entry program, we entered a very nice courtyard where inmates and others were all watching some construction being done on the building, or milling around talking to each other, or heading off in one direction or the other. We all walked through with nothing but a passing interest from anyone. We then went into another locked area and through an empty manufacturing area that until recently provided jobs for many of the inmates (creating solar panels). We later found that this was a huge source of pride and experience to many, but the contract had ended. Other contracts are in the works but take time, and the job site has been closed for 6 months at this point. From there we entered a large, comfortable training room with windows looking into the manufacturing area.

 

Inmates began coming in, said hello, found spots to sit and waited for us to be introduced. It was very comfortable, people came and went as they needed to, but all were completely polite, interested, and engaged when in the room. Heidi started off with a very interesting overview of employment law. There were about 20 men in the room, and at least 4 raised their hands when asked if they had been in management positions before. All had held jobs before. Almost all had been through an interview process. The questions to Heidi were continual and on point, just what you would hear anywhere, for the most part. Heidi reminding the men often to speak “hypothetically” rather than about personal experience.

 

Mic then took over and talked to the attendees about how to be successful in an interview. He had them relaxed and laughing and gave them very useful advice on how to shake hands, look someone in the eye, and ultimately to talk about their past.

 

I then talked about background screening, the process and their rights, and a bit about drug screening as well. This was 3 hours of workshops and not one complaint, group break, or lack in attention. Quite amazing! We stood at the door as they left, and nearly each man said goodbye and thank you. We then backtracked through locked doors, showed our stamps, were given our ID and allowed to leave. Very simple, not one moment of fear or anxiety once I was inside.

 

The next day we came back to provide the same workshops to the inmates at the Camp, which is the name for the Minimum Security area. This time we signed in and gave up our ID at the detention center (VERY intimidating from the outside) but no stamp required, no metal detector and we then left that building to go over to the workshop in the camp. We walked into the camp on our own, no locks, no razor wire… no fence even! Hanging pots of flowers filled the courtyard and everything was really clean and pleasant. We learned that the men in the camp did all the landscaping, gardening and other outdoor work for the whole institution. The first room that had been reserved for us was much too small and already bursting at the seams, so we all stood around, volunteers and inmates, waiting and chatting while our host secured another spot. Again, it was completely comfortable. We finally were sent to the Chapel, which was the only place open to hold our large group, and went through the 3 workshops again. This group was more casual and maybe slightly rowdier and less serious, but completely respectful again. There was absolutely nothing intimidating about the experience.

 

In September Sheridan is having a mock job fair and mock interviews. (more information to come)  They will need a few volunteers from PHRMA to help with conducting the interviews. I wanted to share the experience so that anyone interested would have a very good idea of what to expect, and maybe considering volunteering if they hadn’t wanted to consider it before. It was a very good experience and I personally look forward to volunteering there again.

 

I do understand that federal prison is not quite the same as the other prisons in the state, and entering them might be a different experience, but if you should be interested in any of the upcoming volunteer opportunities at Sheridan and have any questions, I’d be more than happy to chat with you. Just email me at pamelam@occuscreen.com, or reach out to our

Workforce Readiness team at workforcereadiness@portlandhrma.org.

This team is doing great work in student readiness, veteran, and Second Chance hiring and preparation.  If any of these initiatives are interesting to you, please reach out and we can plug you into an opportunity when it arises. 

 


   


What is Workforce Readiness?

The Workforce Readiness Co-Directors, Heidi Mason, PHR and Mic Fleming, are responsible for the section of PHRMA that gives back of our members' talents and skills to the greater Portland community.  We can always use more help!

Generally, our Co-Directors monitor and evaluate on a continuing basis, local activities concerning workforce readiness issues and plans, and encourage chapter involvement and activities impacting the workforce readiness arena.  We also work in conjunction with the state-level workforce readiness advocates.

Workforce readiness activities include:

  • Partnering with local schools to share information and training opportunities
  • Identifying and evaluating issues that impact workforce readiness
  • Serving as a resource for chapter members on workforce readiness issues
  • Monitoring local activities concerning workforce readiness
  • Developing and supporting workshops and seminars that address workforce readiness issues

Preparing Youth for Work

We support the Portland Workforce Alliance, New Avenues for Youth, and other youth-oriented organizations in helping area youth prepare to enter the world of work.  Probably our most important contribution in this regard is offering mock interviews with real human resource professionals who help participants prepare for and present well at a job interview.  We also support youth to work efforts with classes on application/resume and soft skills as well as hard legal edges in the world of work.  If you are interested in volunteering for any of these efforts, please contact Natalie Miller, Rosa Neves, or Jennifer Gwin to be included. 

Preparing Veterans to Enter the Civilian World of Work

We work with private organizations and both state and federal programs to support Veterans in their transition to civilian jobs.  In this context, we work with existing training programs and at job fairs to offer our time and talents, especially in conducting mock interviews designed to help Veterans convert their military experiences into good response narratives that address the kinds of questions, especially behaviorally based inquiries, that make sense in today's civilian workplace.  If you would like to volunteer to work with this program, please contact Mic Fleming or Brian Lawler.

Helping Second Chance Applicants Succeed in Re-Entering the Workplace

We have just BETA tested 6 modules of classes and experiences we are offering to participants in re-entry programs, like the Mercy Corps Northwest Re-Entry Transition Center (RTC), working with those who have recently been released from jail or prison.  We have begun work with the RTC and are in the process of identifying and training PHRMA members as well as PSU HRMA students who will work with these second chance applicants.  This is especially rewarding work and it comes at a time when Oregon is again looking at a 'ban the box' initiative and the EEOC has taken a hard line position against blanket rejection of anyone with a criminal record.  Please contact Heidi Mason or Mic Fleming if you would like to be included in a training class for this exciting work.

 

 

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