It started with one instructor, one student, and a 500-foot garage.
Seven years later, the Rise Up Industries (RUI) Reentry Program in San Diego County is a federal-recognized job training program that has received widespread praise for its success in preparing the formerly incarcerated for reentry into their community and entry into good jobs.
Those participating in the RUI Reentry Program are actively involved in an 18-month intensive training for careers in computer numerically control (CNC) machining and are given employment, classroom training, and real-world experience on contract work to give them the skills needed for a stable career.
The nonprofit Rise Up Industries got its start in 2013. Modeled after Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles – and encouraged by its founder Father Greg Boyle – volunteers at the Kairos Prison Ministry wanted to establish a similar initiative in San Diego. It’s mission is to minimize gang involvement through prevention, intervention, and post-detention support services. RUI helps support the mission through a number of social enterprises – specialty coffee, silkscreen and embroidery, and a machine shop.
How the Jobs Program Began
In 2016, a conversation in a car lead to establishment of the Reentry Program and the machine shop.
“Our co-founder Joe (Gilbreath) was giving a ride to an individual he had known that was just getting out of prison. This individual was exceptionally bright and taught himself CNC machining at RJ Donovan (Correctional Facility),” Jonathan Yackley, RUI’s deputy executive director, explains.
“While Joe was sharing ideas about Rise Up Industries, the individual turned to Joe and said, ‘You know, you ought to think about CNC machining.’”
Gilbreath had to look up what CNC was, but the idea took hold. A short time later, the job training program started with a single student on a single machine in that 500 square foot garage.
It’s since grown to a 4,000 square foot shop with six CNC machines and more than 60 customers. This November, the nonprofit acquired a 40,000 square foot facility and has significant expansion plans over the next five years.
Training, a Job, and Support
“We teach people to be CNC setup operators on both mills and lathes. Some people learn quickly and move onto CNC programming during the 18 months they are with us. All training happens at our facility, where we operate our Machine Shop Social Enterprise. That social enterprise takes on contract work, so in addition to classroom and project-based education, program members get real world work experience,” Yackley says.
The U.S. Department of Labor has since certified the program, and gives apprenticeship certificates for CNC Milling and Turning to RUI’s graduates. Yackley says this designation validates the training and adds another layer of credibility on graduates’ resumes. This can help them overcome additional barriers they face because of their past.
“The graduates of our program have criminal records. Not all shops discriminate, but some still do. As one of our graduates put it, ‘We need to be twice as good and work twice as hard as the next guy.’ That certification gives a leg up when competing against others without records,” he says. “The certification gives graduates a sense of accomplishment.”
“As of July 22, 2022, RUI has enrolled 41 participants. Fourteen participants have graduated. All graduates of the program received full-time employment as machine operators upon graduation. One graduate has been reconvicted – for a recidivism rate of 7% among graduates,” according to a recent evaluation of the program and its success rate.
Preparing for a Career with a Long Future
Participants usually learn about RUI from word of mouth, nonprofit referrals, parole officers, and the book Writing After Life, authored by four RUI graduates. Mike Lucero discovered the program after serving 15 years in prison and returning home to San Diego. While waiting for acceptance to San Diego State University, he applied to RUI and started training in January 2022.
“They teach us the trade of machining. Basically, you get a stock piece of metal or plastic, throw it into a machine to make what engineers call for. It’s fascinating, like a science. I didn’t realize how much is entailed and how much in demand it is,” Lucero says.
Lucero says especially beneficial at his age, this is an industry in which he sees physical longevity.
“I’m in my mid-40s. Obviously, I have to be able to work in some kind of capacity past my normal prime. It’s inside, not like construction,” Lucero says.
“We get out (of prison) at a period where we still need 20 to 25 years to work, and this is a lot different than being an iron worker or welder, where it’s more taxing. This is something I know people who work into their 80s and 90s can do machining because they’re physically capable.”
Lucero earned acceptance to SDSU in Fall 2022, and is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in sociology with an emphasis in criminal justice. His goal is to be involved in criminal justice reform for juveniles, and he’s already reaching out to them. As part of RUI’s gang prevention and intervention efforts, he speaks to young people to share messages of self-worth and serve as a role model.
The Key to Success: Support in Many Forms
Lucero says the community that Rise Up Industries creates is as important as job skills.
“They want to see you succeed. It’s developed that support system necessary for someone coming out of incarceration. It’s a positive environment where people check on you and monitor you. I think it’s a good transition for people coming off of parole and gaining strong work skills at the same time,” he says.
Rise Up Industries also offers a slate of wraparound services that he says sets up students for success such as meetings with a psychologist, marriage counseling, recovery meetings, and case management. The last service helps participants with other aspects of their lives, such as getting to medical appointments, finding proper housing, and financial literacy classes.
Yackley adds RUI also provides tattoo removal, mentoring, work ethic development and job placement. This comprehensive approach, he says, has led to success.
“Nationally, the recidivism rate is 66% within three years of release. In California, the cost to the taxpayer of incarcerating one person is $106,000 per year, and the average sentence length is over five years, leading to a cost of over half a million dollars each time someone is re-incarcerated. Just looking at the numbers, we have potentially saved taxpayers millions of dollars,” he says.
All 14 of the RUI graduates were employed immediately upon completion of the program and there’s constant demand. Often, students are hired while still training, and Yackley says manufacturers ask for the timing of upcoming graduates to fill future jobs.
“As a nation, we need to figure out how to rehabilitate people we incarcerate,” Yackley says.
“We are so good at enforcing the law that over one fifth of the entire world’s incarcerated population is here in the U.S. But what happens after the law is enforced? There needs to be an equal emphasis on rehabilitation as there is on enforcement. When we throw people away and don’t assist in recovery, we will pay a price. On the other hand, when we assist people in their recovery and reentry, we all benefit.”