Local News

Inmates build a better future at Geiger Corrections Center

AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. - A program offered at Geiger Corrections Center is helping inmates and the community. 

The Inland Northwest Association of General contractors has been teaching the program throughout Spokane since April. It's known as Headstart to Construction Trades, and it provides students with both the knowledge they need to work  in construction jobs and a chance to put those skills to use. 

At Geiger, the need was clear. 

“We have a community garden out here at Geiger and we donate produce to the community every year,” said Officer Ray Gawenit, the programs director at the corrections center. 

Geiger's garden provides, on average, one ton of produce to the community every year, Gawenit said. But the center needed a greenhouse and a tool shed to help keep their garden organized. 

The AGC saw their opportunity, and helped the first Headstart class through the process of building those structures. 

“I helped on the roof tearing it off, I helped build some of the shelves, I helped dig out and cut the concrete,” said inmate Sean Gilbert. 

Gilbert and eight other inmates helped throughout the six week process. Both he and Gilbert expresses a desire to keep 

“I have a lot of individuals that are incarcerated currently asking me how do I get into the program, what's the criteria,” Gawenit said. 

“The more people that know about this, the more likely we are to be able to establish some funding that will help us continue these programs,” said Judith Gilmore, with the AGC. 

Students in the classes are taught construction basics. They also have barrier sessions, during which they work with the program leaders like Gilmore to identify factors that, if they got a job after they left Geiger, would keep them from being able to get to work. 

“It's an amazing thing to listen to what the students tell you might keep them from being able to get to work everyday,” Gilmore said. 

Part of the program's value is teaching students to better the community they live in. 

The greenhouse was built using several re-purposed items. The structure itself had existed already as a covered outdoor area for visits, Gawenit said. The wood for shelves and the beams came from the roof of that structure, which was dismantled. An old sink was refitted inside. 

“It's cool! I hope I never have to see it again but I'm very proud to put it up here, you know,” Gilbert said. 

Having the greenhouse and the tool shed will help the garden going forward. But it'll also help inmates like Gilbert, looking for a new start when they leave Geiger. 

“When I leave here I'll have a good shot at getting a job and actually working on a career and maybe doing something to keep me out of here,” he said. 

“When they leave here, they actually feel they've got some direction as to where to go,” Gilmore said. “I had several of them tell me, 'I never knew I had any talent in this at all and now I realize not only do I have talent but I really like doing it,” she said. 

Learning skills is of value on it's own. But the confidence, and pride in hard work, is every bit as useful. 

“You know I see in these guys that they're starting to see a little bit of hope,” Gawenit said. 

“I'm actually grateful to be here, I kind of needed it,” Gilbert said. “I feel like I accomplished something here, you know? It's pretty neat,” he said.