A New Chance on Life

On a bright sunny day earlier this summer, Carmelo walks to the front of the room with pride. Here, he is greeted by several officials, congratulating him for earning 14 college credits in the Electromechanical certificate program. He’s well on his way to achieving his goal of becoming an electrician.

This Milwaukee native earned all 14 of those credits inside New Lisbon Correctional Facility, as part of collaboration between Western Technical College and the Department of Corrections (DOC).

Years ago, a series of bad decisions led Carmelo to this place. He never had a job, and life on the streets led him to prison. With 18 months left in his sentence, Carmelo is looking for a new career and opportunity. With his past behind him, he wanted to focus on his goal of entering the workforce. That’s when he heard about the Electromechanical certificate being offered inside his prison.

“It gave me something to do, something to look forward to every day,” said Carmelo. “It gave me something to focus on and get away from everything else. I would forget I was in jail, and it was very exciting.”

The collaboration between Western and the DOC involves a position within Western’s Business and Industry Services (BIS). The instructor provides academic coursework in specialized fields within correctional facilities. Students in the program work inside Western’s mobile skills lab, a state-of-the-art, movable lab space that is designed as both a classroom and functional work room with proper equipment.

From November to March, Carmelo attended class inside the skills lab from 7:40-11:15 a.m., and again from 12:40-3:30 p.m., four days each week. He learned about pneumatics, PLCs, hydraulics, and much more. Every day, his confidence grew, and realized a hands-on career was in store for him.

“I loved when we hooked up stuff, trying to figure out what’s not right, what’s not working,” he said. “That was the part I truly excelled at.”

Carmelo wants to do more once he is released from prison, with hopes to come back one day to college, perhaps with robotics. Even still, he has the necessary credentials to find work immediately after release.

According to BIS program manager Britt Pagor, students like Carmelo are in high demand.

“I think a lot of perceptions of this population are changing,” Pagor said. “These students bring so much value to the workforce, and employers are recognizing that. With the workforce shortage we are facing, employers are being more creative with attracting talent.”

Currently, the program is on hold while Western searches for a new instructor for the program. For Carmelo, the previous instructor made all the difference.

“Do it if you want to impact someone’s life,” he said. “Our instructor impacted my life in ways you’d never know. It helped me grow as a man. I learned more than just skills. I learned about life.”

If interested in the position, visit www.westerntc.edu/employment.