“I had a pretty comfortable, middle-class job. I was a janitor at a school. I took care of maintenance and everything. And I got in trouble. I got a DUI and I did a little time. I was a man in despair,” says Steven Uribe. “I had lost my job because of the DUI. I didn’t know what was going to happen with court. I didn’t know what was going to happen with my life. My wife and family were very upset at me, so I was kind of losing that. I didn’t know where go.”
As part of his probation, Uribe was required to attend a mandatory meeting to introduce him to a variety of resources to help him get his life back on track. “One of them was Shasta College. They told me that they would be willing to put me through college for free if I kept my grades up. There were some conditions, but as a part of my probation, I would get to do this program.”
Rehabilitative Efforts through Education
Robert Bowman is program director of STEP-UP at Shasta College. “We are a restorative justice program. We do restorative justice for education. Our goal is to involve the community in assisting rehabilitative efforts.”
“We’re a job training program. So, we look at getting students engaged in areas where they can work,” says Bowman.
He continues, “We are one of the few programs that have on-campus learning. We’re one of the few that’s alternative custody, which means that students are assigned to work release or released on electronic monitoring specifically for the purposes of being involved in our program.”
Pathways to Good Jobs
“A lot of effort went into researching what the local workforce was, what our economy was, what kind of drives us. We invested a lot of time and effort working with local labor market research to look at not only where the jobs are in our community, but which fields are going to be open to folks given a particular record,” notes Bowman.
“Our most popular program is our heavy equipment operations and logging program. Forest management. Right behind that is welding. We have a really robust welding and industrial technology machinery program. Then probably third on the list is auto and diesel technology.”
The program pays for many of the students’ expenses. Bowman says, “We’re going to cover the cost of their hard hat, their work boots, their pants, their safety vest, the drug tests that they’re going to need to be in the program. If they’re going to do truck driving, we’re going to cover the cost of their DMV tests for their permit and their physical.”
“Every student gets a laptop if they need it, not just our business students. Everyone takes some sort of computer class because that’s the way that we are going.”
Bowman says students also have support to help guide them post-completion. “We have a counselor on campus that specifically does career planning. We have an apprenticeship coordinator.”
Life Back on Track
For Uribe, going back to school was a little daunting. “I thought I’ve got to do something to make money. I signed up for the welding class. I hadn’t been to college in years, believe me. So I had to retest because I didn’t know where I was academically. I was scared to go back to school. It had been so long, but the college made it so easy for me. They put me in a class that taught me how to go back to school.”
Uribe says, “To get a [welding] certification is six months, but I started doing so well in school that my teacher asked me if I would be willing to work for him. And then he talked me into, ‘Why don’t you get a degree in welding and metal fabrication? You’re almost there. There’s a few more classes you have to take.’ So instead of just going for six months, I ended up going for two years. I got a degree in welding and metal fabrication.”
These days, Uribe is head fabricator at Enoven, a custom body builder and full service truck equipment company. When he initially applied at Enoven, Uribe was a little worried. “The first thing I said was, ‘Look, I need to be honest with you. I have a felony on my record.’ He said, ‘You know what? I’m hiring you because of your attitude, not because of your past. Everybody makes mistakes, so don’t sweat it.’”
“I love what I do. But this job that I have now is really cool. I like it,” says Uribe.
As far as long-term goals, Uribe says, “I love teaching. If I could become a teacher and work at the college as a welding instructor, that would be my dream. I would like maybe to become an inspector, so I might start working towards that. When you’re building a building and you’re welding it together, the welding inspector makes sure that you do everything up to standard. It’s like a code enforcer.”
Bowman says employers are very supportive of the STEP-UP graduates, “Everyone comes and says, ‘Look, these guys are on time. They’re so appreciative of the opportunity that they’ve be given. They bust their tails. They’re super responsible.’ I think that because our students go into areas that they have a passion for they tend to be more successful than folks that are trying to put a round peg in a square hole.”
Uribe says his life was changed by the STEP-UP program. “When I got that DUI, it was the worst thing that happened to me. I was like, ‘How did I get here, man?’ I was drinking way too much. The worst thing that happened to me turned out to be the best thing that happened because I got my family back.”
He continues, “The STEP-UP program gave me hope where there was no hope. And just being around other people that were in the same predicament as me and seeing that they made it, that they were doing it, also gave me hope.”