Men dressed in powder blue prison shirts walked from table to table to talk to employers Saturday as part of the first ever Green Career Fair at San Quentin State Prison.
Inmates - watched closely by armed guards - picked up pamphlets and fact sheets while talking to employers inside San Quentin's cafeteria to learn about opportunities outside the prison's razor-wired fences.
"This is the wave of the future," said inmate Erick Copeland, who will be paroled next spring after being convicted of possessing a shotgun. "I have been waiting for something like this. We get stuck in basic construction or food service. Those are pretty monotonous jobs. This opens things up for us. I want to farm when I get out."
The green fair was the first ever in the California prison system, according to organizers, and a chance for inmates to hear from and network with those involved in the green business boom. The event was sponsored by and The California Reentry and The Insight Garden programs at the prison.
On hand were employers in the green tech and sustainable agriculture arenas, local food, farming and gardening programs, as well as representatives from green training and other workforce development programs. Ê
"I am into manual work and I appreciate manual work," said Peter Rudnick, who was representing Green Gulch Farms in Muir Beach. "There is a dignity to manual work and growing your own food has its own benefits and I'm passing along that message. I'm impressed by the people who I have spoken to."
Inmate John Krause, who will be paroled in two months after serving a sentence for receiving stolen property, was excited about the possibilities of finding work in a green field.
"They have resources here available to us that are outside of our normal comfort zone," he said after chatting with several green businesses. "It gives us a chance to get into something that is really doing well. This helps us network and make those contacts."
Inmate Richard Mingus agreed.
"I have an open mind to anything that will provide work," said Mingus, who will be paroled in October after he was imprisoned for an assault that violated his parole. "I want to work. I want to be productive. This helps. I want legitimate employment."
Green jobs offer new opportunities beyond the traditional low-paying work that often awaits inmates once they are released, said Allyson West, executive director California Reentry Program based at San Quentin.
"This allows them to be on the cutting edge instead of getting the dregs of jobs they normally get," she said. "And because so much of it is outdoor work and green construction work, it is something they can qualify for even with a negative background check. It's an open industry."
Mark Stefanski, a biology teacher at Marin Academy High School in San Rafael who teaches inmates in the prison's Insight Garden program said the fair affirmed inmates' green work inside San Quentin's walls.
"They need affirmation that the green movement is real and that there are job opportunities," he said. "That's the key, jobs and housing. If they make a connection here today, it is enormous for them and society."
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