Edmonds Community College News
Advisory board member named 2008 Distinguished AlumniRelease Date: December 12th, 2008
Ron Woolery, a press operator and advisory board member for the college's training program at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe, received the college's 2008 Distinguished Alumni Award. Woolery earned his graphic arts certificate at the reformatory in 1999.
Read Woolery's story:
A few times each year Ron Woolery, 41, returns to prison as a volunteer in the job skills training program. He makes the drive from Federal Way where he has worked for the past 11 years as a press operator, to the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe, where he served time for drug possession in the 1990s. Woolery serves on Edmonds Community College’s advisory board for vocational technical programs helping to keep curriculum up to date and speaking to students about job opportunities in the field. Woolery earned his Graphic Arts certificate at the reformatory and still uses those skills on the job today. He values his education. Studies show that a year of college-level courses, plus a credential in an in-demand field, makes the difference between struggling in a low-wage job and being able to make a living. It can also be the opportunity that turns prisoners into taxpayers. Woolery said education made a difference for him. “Without the program I don’t think I would have had a clear plan when I was released,” he said. “Being able to get the job kept me going straight.” In addition to graphic arts, Edmonds Community College provides vocational training programs in computers, horticulture, carpentry, and multimedia at the five prison units that make up the Monroe Correctional Complex. It costs $39,772 (between $20,000-$50,000 across the state) to keep a man in prison for a year in Monroe, whereas the cost of a year of college is less than $3,000. People who receive an education while imprisoned are less likely to reoffend. “Job skills training saves taxpayers a great deal of money and makes every body safer,” said instructor Ted Briggs-Comstock. The training programs are popular with the men in prison who are concerned about making the difficult transition from being in prison to being free. They also help keep the peace in prisons by giving the men there a chance to focus on the future. Briggs-Comstock appreciates Woolery’s contribution to the job-training program, “He’s very inspirational to my classes. He gives them some hope that they won’t just be discriminated against at every turn. And he gives them a desire to get down to their learning in the printing industry.” He is grateful that Woolery, who is living a life long and far removed from his prison days, chooses to remember the people kept in a place society wants to forget. “He’s giving back to the program. He didn’t have to do that and he does because he believes in it, and he’s giving the guys here some hope.”