For those spending their teenage years behind bars, it’s difficult to contemplate a future with a felony record with hope and optimism.
“When you’re here, you feel like everyone out there, they don’t want to help you,” said Chrisean Cressel, 20, who has been in custody at Green Hill School in Chehalis since he was 16.
However, Cressel and other graduates of the Uplift portion of the state Rehabilitation Administration’s MyJOB, or My Journey Out Beyond, say the program is giving them skills and strategies to succeed in the workforce and begin their adult lives on the right foot after their release.
Quandré O’Neal, 16, said the program helped participants learn how to follow their goals and dreams.
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“Even though you’ve been locked up and have felonies on your record, it doesn’t mean you can’t get jobs,” he said.
About 20 residents of Green Hill School and Naselle Youth Camp, the first to complete the new program, gathered recently at Green Hill School with representatives from the Rehabilitation Administration, MyJOB, Pacific Mountain Workforce Development and others to celebrate their success.
More residents completed the program, but have already been released from the facilities, Green Hill Superintendent Marybeth Queral said.
While Green Hill has had other vocational programs for years, MyJOB teaches residents of the juvenile detention facilities “soft skills,” such as how to get along with people in a workplace, and gives them practice in job interview situations, specifically teaching them how to address their felony history.
“That’s huge,” Queral said.
MyJOB is a partnership among the state Rehabilitation Administration, the Department of Social and Health Services Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, local workforce development councils and school districts.
John Clayton, retiring assistant secretary of the state Rehabilitation Administration, spoke at the reception and said the state has an obligation to plan for the re-entry of juvenile offenders into society and the workforce.
“We are very serious about the issue of rehabilitation. We believe strongly that everyone deserves a second chance,” Clayton said. “The reality is that every youth that’s in an institution in the system is going to go home someday.”
The average sentence at Green Hill is 10.5 months, he said.
“How we should be judged is by how well they do when they go home,” he said.
Cheryl Fambles, chief executive officer of Pacific Mountain Workforce Development, said the program is not about charity but about enabling juveniles to re-enter society to be a part of the economy.
“We need you in this economy,” she said.
Sarah Lloyd, MyJOB program manager, recognized the graduates for their achievements.
“What you all have done is an amazing thing,” she said. “Completing this process is a huge deal and it’s only the beginning.”
Four graduates of the eight-week Uplift portion of the MyJOB program said they felt encouraged by what they have learned.
“I will use what I’ve learned on the job site by adapting to my surroundings and maintaining focus on my goals,” Jimm Route said.
Cressel already is self-assured but said the program taught him to focus on his positive traits as well as those he needs to improve on. It connected him with positive mentors.
“You’ve got to always remember the good things,” he said.
Another speaker from Green Hill, Jorge Rodriguez, told attendees that he’s learned to “give credit where credit is due” in his time in a juvenile facility.
“I have been incarcerated for 3 years and six months,” he said.
Rodriguez asked attendees to give his instructors a round of applause before emotionally talking about how the program taught him that people are “there for him,” no matter what.
When Clayton spoke at the beginning of the reception, he prefaced his remarks by saying he meant to take up only a few minutes in order to leave more time for students from Green Hill and Naselle.
“I’m here to hear from the youth that have actually been through this process,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about, it’s all about them.”