Women inmates go beyond expectations in logistics training

Learning behind bars

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MITCHELLVILLE — Twila Pore’s face lit up as she talked about the distribution and warehouse training she completed earlier this month while in prison, saying it was “life-changing.”

“I didn’t have the self-esteem or confidence to get a job ... a good job,” Pore, 47, formerly of Riverside, Calif., said in a makeshift classroom at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women. “I didn’t think I was smart enough. I dropped out (of high school) at 15. My parents were drug addicts. It’s all I knew.”

Pore, serving time for conspiracy to deliver methamphetamine and false impersonation, has about 34 months before she’s released from the women’s prison in Mitchellville.

She said she won’t “go back to that lifestyle” because now she — and 14 other inmates — have job skills after completing seven weeks of Transportation Distribution Logistics training at the prison.

They all received their TDL certification and graduated earlier this month.

Jennifer Payne, 25, of Algona, sitting across from Pore, started tearing up, talking about growing up in a violent home and admitting she was in prison for forgery and domestic abuse.

“I was in a bad relationship,” Payne said. “I hit him ... he didn’t fight back. I had some mental health issues, but I’m more stable now. I have ADHD, and I was scared and angry and had depression. Now, I’m on the right meds.”

Simulated business

But Payne became happier when she talked about handling the payroll in the training simulation, which involved operating a digital warehouse business and selling supplies to hotels, dorms and hospitals.

“I was able to give raises and bonuses — it was fun,” said Payne, who has only days until her release. “It was like a real payroll of $120,000, and it included (withholding) taxes and insurance.”

Susanna Miller, 38, of Davenport, who handled shipping, receiving and inventory, couldn’t wait to blurt out the mock business made “$1.2 million” — after paying off its loans.

“We hated to see it end,” Miller said. “We all felt overwhelmed at first, but it gave us confidence.”

Miller couldn’t stop talking about the business, explaining how they started adding customers. She and Pore said their instructor added one and then they all got the idea on how to attract more hotels as customers and boost profits.

She only became solemn as she talked about how she ended up in prison. Miller was convicted of child endangerment resulting in bodily injury. She physically, emotionally and verbally abused her then-boyfriend’s children.

“I was misusing prescription drugs for mental health issues,” Miller said, looking down as she tightly rolled up a tissue used to wipe away tears. “I had issues with my father and had explosive outbursts. I didn’t intentionally set out to harm them. I’ve been taking many classes to change my behavior and come out a better person. I’ve forgiven him (father) now and myself.”

Creativity shown

The women’s goal of $1 million may have seemed lofty at the start, but Pat Steele, site director of Central Iowa Works, said the women caught on quickly to the simulation. Their “creativity and innovation” made them successful — the most successful group to date.

This is the first training class from a prison to be included in a two-year United Way of Central Iowa grant awarded by the Wal-Mart Foundation and Jobs for the Future, Steele said.

The placement agency teamed up with Des Moines Area Community College to provide the TDL training. Some 225 Iowans were trained through the grant, which specified 25 percent of the participants had to be women.

Steele said the diversity is needed because less than 10 percent of TDL jobs are held by women.

Upon release, the 15 women inmates will receive job placement assistance from Central Iowa Works.

Another round of training starts in June, and more women inmates will participate.

Applicants for training need to have to a high school diploma or an equivalency diploma, no violent or sexual criminal history and be fairly close to their release date, Steele said.

Miller, who was convicted of child endangerment, was an exception, Steele said. Her counselor said her case occurred several years ago and that she was one of the best workers the prison had.

“One of the employers who reviewed the applicants said they would be open to hiring her,” she said. “We felt that if an employer was willing to consider her for employment, we should give her the opportunity.”

The logistics training, Steele said, is beneficial because jobs requiring those skills usually pay $12 to $14 an hour.

Overall, she added, attitudes about hiring felons seem to be changing. One of the reasons is the labor shortage in Iowa.

“We had employers look at the applicants’ criminal histories to see if they would be open to hiring them,” Steele said. “Some couldn’t hire a few, but most of the applicants had been convicted of a drug-related offense.”

Skills, confidence

The training includes on-site instruction from DMACC faculty, computer simulations and hands-on forklift operation, which they took off-site at the DMACC campus. The women each have forklift and Occupational Safety and Health Administration certification and a Manufacturing Skills Council certification as logistics technicians.

Steele said the women also learned presentation and interview skills, how to work as a team and accept supervision and criticism — skills needed in the workplace.

“We’re very excited about this training program because it gives these women offenders skills and confidence that they didn’t have before coming to prison,” Deputy Warden Jeremy Larson said. “It gives these women the opportunity to gain employment upon release, which significantly decreases their chances of returning to prison.”

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