For about four years, male inmates have been going out into the community to work and train in manufacturing, putting them on the path to a career after incarceration. However, female inmates in the state have never had the same opportunity: until now.
Four women will leave prison and clock in to work at Whitcraft in Plainville, starting Friday, March 4. It marks the first career-training program of this kind for incarcerated women in Connecticut. Four women named Jessica, Judy, Shannon and Syndey will participate.
“I’m excited, nervously excited, but I’m excited,” Judy said. “This is an opportunity that I feel is a gift that's been granted to me.”
The women will leave York Correctional Institution in East Lyme to report to work at Whitcraft, an aircraft manufacturer.
“I guess the best way to describe it would be to say, similar to like a little kid on their first day of school,” Jessica said.
“I feel very proud,” Shannon added. “It makes me that much more determined to ensure that this program succeeds.”
They are the first inmates to take part in a skilled manufacturing program for incarcerated women in Connecticut.
“We are setting up a path for not only ourselves, but for future women as well, to follow down that same path. It doesn't just end with us. It's for all future females as well,” Jessica said.
Whitcraft’s Chief Operating Officer Jacqueline Gallo said the company has partnered with the Cybulski Correctional Institute for men since 2018, bringing inmates in to train and prepare them for life after incarceration.
“We've placed out dozens of them into full-time careers,” Gallo said.
The Department of Corrections had not given approval for inmates from the women’s prison to participate in a similar program until this program was recently given the green light.
“There needs to be a safety plan there, there needs to be an operational plan. There's a whole bunch of stuff that goes into this. And then the women themselves have to be prepared and vetted,” Gallo said.
Now that the program is approved, all four women will report to work daily. They will be escorted by an officer and train alongside Whitcraft employees, before returning to the correctional facility.
Each day they will be manufacturing aircraft engine parts, receiving pay and full benefits.
“Whitcraft is taking a huge leap of faith to bring me, and say you are worth this. Come in and work for us,” Judy said. “We're giving you a golden opportunity. It's like the golden ticket."
The goal is that the skills the women learn while incarcerated will help them build careers for their futures.
“Previously the women, the opportunities that they had for job skills while incarcerated, were usually around seamstress work or dry cleaning or cleaning type of work,” Gallo said. “So this is really the first time that they're having opportunity to work in something that has advanced skilled labor.”
Jessica, Judy, Shannon and Syndey are all preparing to re-enter society within the next few years. They believe having a job lined up will help reduce recidivism, and they all want to take advantage of this skills training.
“To leave here with a job, it takes a big burden off of me or my family,” Syndey said. “I think that it's amazing that they're giving us this chance to absorb all of this knowledge and experience and get to get familiar with the trade.”
Different actions put the four women behind bars.
“I struggled with drug-related co-dependency,” Jessica said.
“I ended up getting entrenched in like the street life, I started selling drugs,” Shannon said.
Those actions irrevocably impacted their lives, and shattered relationships.
“That one day changed everything for me,” Judy said. “I've lost everything. My career, the love of family members, I've lost friends.”
The women said they've tried to make the most of their time in prison.
“Being incarcerated hasn't necessarily been easy, but I've learned a lot of lessons and hit a lot of milestones,” Syndey said.
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Now with a new opportunity before them, they hope to build skills and rebuild relationships.
“I never gave up, because I knew I had a few people out there who still care for me, they still loved me,” Judy said.
They believe this program will help them work toward a better life when they re-enter society.
“Changing the way that the prison system is run and giving us these opportunities to enter society and work, these are the embodiments of what second chance really is,” Shannon said.
Whitcraft has multiple facilities, and Gallo hopes to expand this program in the future.
The Warden of York Correctional Facility, Trina Sexton, also tells us she hopes other Connecticut employers get involved.