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Career Fest readies inmates for job on the outside

September 19, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

When 16-year-old Jawan Armstrong first came to the Maryland Correctional Training Center two years ago, he'd never had a job, let alone a career.

Now the Baltimore teenager is looking forward to finishing his high school education within the prison's walls and then going to college on the outside.

"My own life has shaped my career," Armstrong said as he and dozens of other inmates took steps toward their futures at Career Fest 2002 held Wednesday at the medium-security prison south of Hagerstown.

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Armstrong said his goal is to become a sociologist and study the effects of urban living on people his age.

"In a way, I'll be studying myself to find out why I ended up in here," Armstrong said.

Not all inmates' goals were as lofty as Armstrong's but just the fact that they have goals is a vital component of success in the outside world, said Diana Bailey of the Maryland Department of Correctional Education.

The daylong program brought employers and resource representatives together with inmates who are enrolled in the educational programs at MCTC, said Principal Daphne Matthews.

"I want a career in heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration," said Kenneth Ray who has 2 1/2 years to go before he will be able to join the civilian work force in his native Baltimore.

Ray, 32, said he has been working in the HVAC/R training program at the prison for 18 months. He said he attended Career Fest to make sure he would be marketable when he re-enters society.

"I talked to an employer today and was told I am well trained," Ray said.

While it's too far off for him to be seeking a job yet, he said he was encouraged by the feedback he got at Career Fest.

Phillip Ellis said the interviews he had were helpful. "I got a bird's-eye view of how to get a job. I am, after all, training for my first career," said the 29-year-old Baltimore native with 10 to 18 months to go on his sentence.

After all the interviews were over Wednesday, the interviewers got together to critique the experience.

"I was impressed with how prepared the inmates were," said Sheridan Stanley of the Baltimore mayor's office. "They are really on the ball."

Rafael Ortiz of the District Court of Baltimore said he was impressed with how open the inmates were in their interviews about what put them in prison.

"If I had a company, I would have hired half of them on the spot," Ortiz said.

Overall, the inmates were praised for their concise and accurate resumes, professional demeanors and obvious training on how to make the best possible impression in a job interview.

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