Young men undergo vocational training while behind bars

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By Rachel Kubik

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RACINE, Wisconsin (The Times Journal) – Dabrion Whitehead, 22, from Milwaukee, dreams of becoming a barber.

He has been incarcerated at Racine Juvenile Correctional Facility since 2017, when he was involved in a high-speed pursuit in Fond du Lac with a stolen vehicle.

Thanks to a new employment lab in the jail for young men aged 18-24, he has a better chance of finding a job and has goals that do not involve returning to crime, a- he declared. He hopes to finish school after graduating from RYOCF. He expects to be released on December 21.

“I really grew up here, like being here has helped me develop more,” Whitehead said. “I really broadened my mind, I ended up here basically. It’s a beautiful experience for me, how some people would take this time and be sad, when I took this time to move on and expand my mind.

Staff at Racine Juvenile Correctional Facility have been working for some time to help improve the lives of inmates so that they don’t come out of jail just to commit more crimes and come back. Staff are now supported by three new initiatives implemented in the past year.

A new mobile mechatronics lab at RYOCF, 1501 Albert St., pairs inmates with instructors from Gateway Technical College to teach them some of the trade skills. The Employment Lab, a collaboration between the Corrections Department and the Workforce Development Department, gives inmates a head start in their job search. They create a Job Center of Wisconsin account, apply and go through an interview before returning to their community. A music studio helps inmates explore their passions.

The job center has been around for about two months and the mechatronics lab has been around for about six months. The music room was finished last year.

Many Ways to Learn Mechatronics, also known as mechatronics engineering, is an interdisciplinary branch of engineering that focuses on the integration of mechanical, electronic and electrical engineering systems, and also includes a combination of robotics, electronics, IT, telecommunications, systems, control and product engineering.

Several Southeastern Wisconsin companies including Snap-On Incorporated, Nestlé, GA Precision Manufacturing and Intech Medical sent representatives to RYOCF on Thursday to join DOC Secretary Kevin Carr and DWD Secretary-designate Amy Pechacek, to see the work done by the young men of the institution. new mobile mechatronics laboratory.

These men are the first group to use the mechatronics lab. They received laboratory training from Gateway Technical College and around 20 men will be certified through the college in a graduation ceremony scheduled for Tuesday.

Secretaries and employers saw students’ final projects and saw what they learned, toured the mechatronics lab, and toured the jobs lab.

Making It Happen RYOCF Director Je’Leslie Taylor worked with the Tech School and other organizations to make these efforts a reality.

Taylor said she has been working since becoming deputy director in 2017 and director in 2019 to reduce recidivism rates and prevent young men from returning to correctional facilities.

Besides her, the staff includes correctional officers, sergeants, social workers, psychologists, treatment specialists, teachers, administration members and “a plethora of staff dedicated to bringing about change” Taylor said. Young men “did not have positive role models… so when they come here we have to help them build trust, and I hope we will help them to have confidence in themselves to believe that they can. succeed in an open environment.

Taylor said those in the RYOCF are not treated as typical prisoners to be punished, but rather as someone who can be taught to heal from past trauma, to whom resources and education are provided.

“You have to listen to their stories,” Taylor said. “Every young man here has a story, and you have to be able to understand it, take the time to listen to their story where they come from, why they behave the way they do, what happened in their life.”

Keeping young men busy is also important, Taylor said, which is why RYOCF has the new music studio, with a mural painted by inmates. The music studio was twice offered by NBA All-Star Caron Butler, a Racine native who spent time behind bars as a teenager and is now a coach for the Miami Heat, and the Chief of Police at the Racine Art Howell’s retirement, Taylor said.

“Our young men can draw, they can write songs, they’re so talented,” Taylor said. “You just have to take them out, and they blossom.”

“A New Environment” Lashawn Franklin, 21, of Racine, was convicted in 2017 of reckless first-degree security breaches, attempted armed robbery and bail bonding. He was in the mechatronics lab on Thursday and said he enjoyed learning a new trade.

“We’re building a new environment so we don’t have to go back to the streets,” Franklin said. He plans to continue his studies at Gateway Technical College.

Tyler Wells, 24, of Oshkosh, admitted to making bad decisions in the past.

Wells was convicted in several 2017-2020 cases of possession of amphetamine, attempted theft with use of force, possession of narcotics and possession of cocaine.

However, he said being in the mechatronics lab changed his “mindset” and gave him hope for the future.

“It’s the first thing I have accomplished in my adult life that I can be proud of,” he said of his upcoming graduation.

After that, once released from RYOCF in May potentially, he considers applying for jobs or apprenticeships. He hopes to someday get a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree.

Taylor has now said that her past ideas have come to fruition and that she sees positive changes happening, she is grateful and humbled.

“I am honored and grateful for the staff here because they make it happen,” Taylor said. “Every person until the last person, it wouldn’t happen without them at RYOCF. “

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