Department of Corrections honors second graduating class of inmate welding program

The Gwinnett County Department of Corrections on June 28 held a graduation ceremony for the second class of a vocational welding program designed to equip inmates with an occupational skill to help them land good jobs upon release.

The ceremony recognized the program’s 14 graduates and featured speakers including D. Glen Cannon, president of Gwinnett Technical College, and Warden Darrell Johnson.

“One of the hardest things about coming out of prison is finding a job,” said Johnson. “With this program, they have a marketable skill that will help them start a new life with new hope. Some of our participants have spent much or most of their lives incarcerated, but this program gives them a realistic shot at success when they get out. The first class graduated a year ago, and of the 11 who have been released, all found jobs immediately.”

The class valedictorian, Gage Q. Bryant, wrote a thank you letter to the staff saying the class has enabled him to learn a trade and helped solidify a foundation for life outside of prison. He wrote that he intends to take more welding classes in the future.

“This experience has not only made me a better man but has boosted my confidence of living a successful life,” Bryant said. “This class was a great opportunity for me and an amazing learning experience.”

The 16-week program is offered through a partnership between Gwinnett County Department of Corrections, the Georgia Department of Corrections, the Atlanta Regional Commission and Gwinnett Technical College.

Participants in the program attend the class four days a week for six hours a day after completing their work detail. In class, students receive instruction that emphasizes basic skills, safety and quality workmanship. Upon completion of the course, they’ll earn certificates in Introduction to Welding, Oxy-Fuel Cutting, Gas Metal Arc Welding and Flux Cored Arc Welding from Gwinnett Tech. Should they choose to return to school after their release, the credits earned during the course can transfer back to Gwinnett Tech as hours that can be used toward a diploma.

This class of graduates maintained an A average. The participant selected as valedictorian earned both his GED diploma and the welding certifications during his incarceration.

The Department of Corrections received Workforce Opportunity Investment Act funding from the Atlanta Regional Commission for the welding program. The program is overseen by Vocation/Education Coordinator Shontese Renfroe-Wilson, who also offers job readiness workshops to offenders who complete vocational training.

Other vocational training offered by Corrections includes forklift licensing, ServSafe, building maintenance, and computer science. The department also provides literacy and GED classes for inmates, with GED testing conducted onsite.

Watch the video of the ceremony on TV Gwinnett's Vimeo page and see photos on Flickr.