Ruthann Taylor proudly displays her certificate. One of her two teachers, Kevin Bradley, an Ivy Tech MSSC adjunct instructor, said his Madison Correctional Unit students "have seen the need to have a better life once they get out. They are an incredible bunch. Staff photo by Debbie Blank
Ruthann Taylor proudly displays her certificate. One of her two teachers, Kevin Bradley, an Ivy Tech MSSC adjunct instructor, said his Madison Correctional Unit students "have seen the need to have a better life once they get out. They are an incredible bunch. Staff photo by Debbie Blank
MADISON - Guests for “A Celebration of Success” graduation ceremony March 13 at 1 p.m. were buzzed in at the fence topped with concertina wire, then stood in a long line while their purses and other possessions were searched. All passed through an X-ray machine and some were then frisked.

The ceremony at the Indiana Department of Correction Madison Correctional Facility was for women who recently earned certifications from the American Welding Society, Manufacturing Skill Standards Council or National Institute for Metalworking Skills.

Guards guided attendees to the auditorium where soon-to-be graduates wearing blue Indiana Next Level Jobs T-shirts were waiting in seven rows of chairs. Parents, teachers, prospective employers, other supporters and the media sat in chairs across the aisle. 

Above the stage was a giant photo of Gov. Eric Holcomb, which turned into a video once the event began. The governor said, “As you all know, having the proper education means everything when entering the workforce, especially for folks convicted of crimes. ... I’m grateful all of you have stepped up despite your current circumstances. ... You should all be proud.”

Ivy Tech Community College has offered the certification courses six or seven times, recalled Warden Jan Davis. “We’ve had over 150 women become certified in the last year” in manufacturing, computers and other areas. The training is paid for through Indiana Department of Workforce Development and other grants to IDOC. River Valley Resources also provided different grant funding for MSSC classes.

From the podium, Davis reported the “Madison model” has been nationally recognized and is being continuously tweaked. “Behind this model, there are agencies and organizations ... that simply want each of you ladies to take the skills you obtained and use them for a successful future.”

Introducing MSSC graduate Irene Price as the student speaker, the warden announced to enthusiastic applause, “She got approved for work release today.” Price’s reaction? “Oh, my goodness. That is great!”

The inmate, who has been incarcerated 17 years, said, “I came in with one goal - get out as quickly as possible. After years of going to school, I realized education was the one thing missing.” She earned her high school equivalency diploma, then associate and bachelor’s degrees. “Not only did I want the time cuts (from her prison sentence), but I wanted the education. I needed it. ... I wanted whatever it took to make myself a better person.”

Ivy Tech Community College Chancellor Molly Dodge told the inmates, “Within Indiana numerous manufacturers ... will want to employ you because of your skills. Your skills will trump your barriers, including your felonies.”

Manufacturing Skill Standards Council CEO and 2006 co-founder Neil Reddy reported the “very high level” MSSC certification stands apart from others because it was federally mandated. Front line workers at Intel, Raytheon and Lockheed identified needed skills, then manufacturing assessments were developed. The course is tough: “Only about 30 percent earn the full MSSC.”

“The advanced manufacturing world is much friendlier for women. With all the advancements in automated systems and ergonomics, you don’t have to be that strong anymore.” Computerized systems run the machines. Reddy pointed out, “You’re learning how to program, maintain and operate those machines” for an average $16.50 hourly wage. “It’s not uncommon to start between $12-$14” and be making $18-$20 per hour by the third year.

Forty-four of the unit’s 620 women, who range in age from 18-75, completed the training during this session. After certificates were presented, Davis said, “I want to thank the families for coming. It means the world to these ladies you’re still out there supporting them ... They’re going to go back out there and be better people and make you proud.”

One graduate hailed from Ripley County. Ruthann Taylor felt “so overwhelmed,” but had “a sense of accomplishment. That is something in this situation you don’t get a whole lot of ... it’s just an amazing feeling. To know I can take this and do so much more with it and not return to the lifestyle I was in before.”

What was that lifestyle? With tears welling up in her eyes, Taylor whispered, “Addiction.” The former Sunman resident added that she is “six years clean and sober.” 

She completed 140 hours of training over 11 weeks at both Ivy Tech Community College, Madison, and the Madison Correctional Unit. The learning was a combination of modules on a computer, hands-on training and homework. “You learn how to read dial calipers and micrometers.” Those quality and production skills will enable her to do “pretty much any job in the factory.”

Of gaining the MSSC certificate, the young woman said, “I hope it changes my life in every aspect. I’m looking forward to so much positive change - to be able to take the skills I’ve learned and use them for good, to be able to give back to the general community where I did wrong.”

Kevin Bradley, her Ivy Tech MSSC adjunct instructor who just finished teaching his first cohort at the correctional unit, described his students as “absolutely incredible. These ladies have four really high characteristics: They have drive, they have ambition, they have perseverance, they have determination. In my 38 years in education, that’s the highest level of achievers I’ve ever seen.”

Taylor’s education is already paying off: “I just got a job offer from Grote Industries today!” The full-time position in Madison for the next year will pay over $16 an hour. Taylor is scheduled to be released from the facility in 18 months.

“We have employers waiting” for students with the valued certifications, according to Davis. Some were in the audience that day. There is no stigma to having a criminal record, according to her. Skills are more important than a person’s past.

The warden noted, “Since we’ve started doing the certification program, we have more women being successful. I feel great. We’re doing what we need to be doing, giving them opportunities they wouldn’t have had.”

“We have a number of women here who have done an extensive amount of time.” Some have been incarcerated for so long “there are so many things they don’t know about,” including cellphones. “Getting these certifications, they’re getting out there, being around people ... feeling much better about themselves.”

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