A reentry program that puts offenders to work

150 150 Michael G. Santos

In trying to develop a reentry program that will put more people who have criminal backgrounds to work, it is important to innovate. With that end in mind, I’m striving to bring together government agencies, existing businesses, philanthropic organizations and others.  Together, we can muster the resources to introduce a values-based, goal-oriented, job-training program I’ve created.  

As readers of my prior work here on the CAFwd site know, my ties to this issue are deep and very personal. In 1987 I was arrested for a leadership role I played in a scheme to distribute cocaine.  At the time I was 23.  Although I did not have a history of previous incarceration, weapons, or violence, my judge imposed a lengthy sentence.  I served the next 9,135 days in prisons of every security level. 

During that quarter century, I worked every day to develop values, skills, and resources that would translate into success upon my release. I emerged from prison with an undergraduate degree from Mercer University and a master’s degree from Hofstra University. I had several books published that described my journey through prison, including Earning Freedom: Conquering a 45-Year Prison Term, which told the story from my arrest until the day of my release. 

That time and those experiences  convinced me that a training program like the “Straight-A Guide” one I am proposing could show other offenders how to similarly prepare themselves for success upon release, as well.

During my first week of liberty I began working for Lee Nobmann, who founded Golden State Lumber (GSL).  GSL has been in business for longer than 30 years and it is the largest lumber supplier in the state of California. Between its four lumberyards around the San Francisco Bay area and its subsidiary companies, GSL employs more than 300 people and generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year.

Lee understood that I wanted to build a career around all that I learned while traversing a quarter century in prison.  He agreed to sponsor me for the first year, providing a desk that I could use to develop reentry programs that would help more offenders emerge as law-abiding citizens. 

The more we spoke about this idea of helping offenders develop values, skills, and resources that would translate into law-abiding lives, the more intrigued Lee became.  If I could persuade government agencies to fund training programs that would help more offenders transition into society, Lee agreed to become a partner by providing employment opportunities for those who participated in our program.

This reentry program would differ from those that administrators in prisons supported.  Rather than focusing on providing participants with a certificate of completion, our purpose was to provide participants with pathways to sustainable employment.  To the extent that we could persuade municipalities and philanthropic organizations to join this collaborative effort, we would have the resources to provide such services as transitional housing, apprenticeship training, and immediate employment opportunities for those who agreed to embrace the same type of highly disciplined structured program that empowered me to transform my life.

We found an ally in Michael Tubbs, the newly elected councilman from Stockton.  Michael Tubbs has a unique history of overcoming adversity.  He was born to a teenage mother in Stockton and his father was incarcerated for Michael’s entire life. Despite that hardship, Michael became an outstanding student and earned a full scholarship to Stanford University. He graduated from Stanford with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree when he was 22, and with Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement, won his seat on Stockton’s city council.  He aspires to transform his city and recognizes that helping more offenders transition into society as law-abiding citizens is a good place to start.

I drove over to take Michael on a tour of the Golden State Lumber plant in Stockton.  Beau Nobmann, general manager of the Stockton plant, showed us the sawmills, the inventory, the robotic operations, and all of the equipment.  It is clear that Golden State Lumber has the capacity to develop apprenticeship programs that will train offenders to develop sustainable employment opportunities.

With Michael’s help, we hope to open collaborative agreements with the city of Stockton and the county of San Joaquin to introduce this innovative reentry program. Julio Marcial, director of the California Wellness Foundation, has also expressed an interest in supporting this project.  If we succeed in building a collaboration between municipalities, philanthropic organizations, and business, we’ll create a truly innovative program that helps lower recidivism by helping one-time criminal offenders successfully re-integrate themselves back into society. 

Once the Stockton branch is underway, we’ll open a similar job training program at Golden State Lumber’s Newark facility, where we can open opportunities for offenders in cities between Oakland and San Jose. After that, we’ll scale the program to Southern California.

Those who want to learn more about our Straight-A Guide reentry program should contact me through email at MichaelSantos0624@gmail.com


Michael G. Santos

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