ENID, OK -- A steel pillar embodies the most memorable students at Autry Career Tech in Enid. It is decorated with special designs as a tribute to the ODOC inmates who've successfully completed the welding school.
Ken Hansen is a welding instructor here, and many of his students are Department of Corrections inmates. Hansen said, "They get a certificate of completion along with their certification and sometimes they ask for an extra to send to mom or grandma because it’s the first time in life they’ve been successful."
This program began with a 1 million dollar grant in 2005. Nobody ever imagined it would become this successful. According to Career Tech's Barrett Richardson, "It’s very fulfilling to see them complete something and move forward and get a job. They start making honest money. Most know how to make money. They just never knew how to make it the correct way. So, that’s very rewarding."
Career Tech is partnering with Enid Community Corrections Center to put men like Kenneth Wheeler on the right path. Wheeler said, "Since I came here I’ve gotten my GED, went through a drug program and I’m here doing the welding program. This place has been pretty good for me."
Not only are they learning life-changing skills, many have a job waiting for them once they’re released. Marsau Enterprises has given many former inmates jobs, with a competitive salary, benefits, and security. "I’ve made a reputation in Enid. I’m willing to give anybody a second chance as long as they are willing to step up and do their part. And we’ve had a lot of success with these guys coming through here," said Marsau's George Barbour.
The job placement rate for these Career Tech students is an impressive 87%. There is now a waiting list of inmates wanting to make a major change. Cased Manager, Darlene Staples said, "These guys, when they come in, they are hopeful. They don’t want to come back to prison."
For guys like Kenneth Wheeler, there is finally a bright light of hope at the end of a long, dark tunnel. "I'd like the think I'm a new man."