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Trades class offers second opportunity to inmates

Calvin Grandberry, of Chicago, had talents for a potentially successful career in construction.

Some of his fellow co-workers told him it should be a priority for himself and for his career.

“But I started getting into a lot of trouble, things I shouldn’t be doing,” Grandberry said from inside the fences of Sheridan Correctional Center during a prison open house.

Still, he’s determined to ensure those talents are not wasted as he’s spent just more than three months in the prison’s Home Builders Institute, which gives inmates hands-on exercises in various trades, effectively giving them a head start when they leave and look for a career.

Grandberry was assembling a brick wall along the side of a mock house with the speed and precision of a veteran bricklayer.

His skills were put to use in the past, but now there’s a passion behind the work and pride in its completion.

Grandberry said supervisors in his past were less concerned with the final product as “it’s not going to be seen” behind drywall.

“I got myself to that point that I want to make that work look like it’s going to be seen,” Grandberry said.

He’s one of multiple inmates taking part in the program that has been in place at Sheridan Correctional Center for 15 years.

HBI Program Manager Scott Eike said the program has a 5% recidivism rate, a drop from the state’s 2018 average of 43% of inmates expected to return to prison.

“It’s really rewarding to see these guys when they get out and make something of themselves and turn their lives around,” Eike said. “The ones that you can see in here when lightbulbs are going on and then the confidence of ‘Wow, I didn’t realize I could do that.’ ”

Jamar Money, of Chicago, was more than halfway finished creating a brick fireplace inside the workshop. 

“For me, I can’t speak for anyone else, but from my perspective I like building things from down to up and then (thinking) ‘I did this,’ ” Money said. “It makes it fun and interesting.”

Money was working across the room from Sonadra Sims. Both said they hope to find a career with their skills when they get out.

When given a choice of trade, Money chose bricklaying because he had some previous experience with his grandfather.

His skills have improved dramatically through the course, but his grandfather has been in the hospital, so Money hasn’t been able to update him.

“I wish I could talk to him about it. He’d be proud, you know? Because he really tried to get me to work with him out there for a long time,” Money said. “I’d go in and look at them, I’d lay a couple of bricks, then I’d be gone.”

When complete, they’ll take pictures of the fireplace before tearing it down and making something else.

Arthur Holmes, of Chicago, was on the other side of the room working on plumbing for a mock home.

He knew how to fix a leak in his own home prior to the class, but he’s since learned how to fix any issue a homeowner might run into.

Holmes said the class is something he looks forward to every day and it’s something he hopes to continue to do as a profession.

“As long as there are people, there’s always going to be houses. And as long as there’s housing, they’re going to need plumbing,” Holmes said. “I’ll always have a job, I’ll always have a hobby. So it’s encouraging.”

The inmates also heard a success story during the open house.

Lougwin Spann was a former HBI student in the prison and found a career a short time after his release.

“You’d be surprised at the inmates in here who had the skills all the time but we just made mistakes,” Spann said.

Spann said the skills he learned in the program helped him get a job on the floor of a car factory before earning his forklift license and then later moving to a roofing company.

He said the skills also taught him how to work with fellow co-workers and move on from mistakes.

He credits HBI’s program for helping give him a positive outlook on his future.

“I just never thought about it,” Spann said. “See, you can’t draft a new idea on a closed mind. It has to be opened somewhere and they did it, HBI did it. They cracked it open that I could do it again.”

Additionally, Spann said he has been sober for eight years and said the program has given him the skills he needs to both have a career and keep himself focused on his future.

Spann said his advice for others in the program is simple.

“It works if you work it, but you got to want it,” Spann said.

Eike said the program is always accepting of donations of community projects. Inmates have designed raffle items, Little Free Libraries, benches and city signs. They particularly like working on projects that benefit kids.

To donate or ask about a project, call Eike at 815-496-3540.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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