Colo. prison’s ‘education row’ a boon for inmates |

Colo. prison’s ‘education row’ a boon for inmates

The Daily Record

CANON CITY, Colo. – Long dubbed “Old Max,” Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility sits quietly on the outskirts of Canon City. Built in 1871, CTCF has never been closed at any time, and renovations have many inmates looking forward to new classroom space in the near future.

“About 95 percent of our inmates will one day be back in our neighborhoods,” said Administrative Services Manager Mary Ann Aldrich. “So it’s worth our time and energy to do what we can to give them educational skills, vocational certificates, apprenticeships; whatever we can do to help them be able to make a good living whenever they get out.”

With the focus on being able to make positive transitions back into the community, the educational programs through CTCF have waiting lists.

One building on CTCF grounds houses a line of classrooms called “education row,” with five to six classes going twice a day for about three hours each.

Anthony Johnson, who has another nine months on his sentence, said he is trying to take advantage of as many classes as he can.

“I take a couple of college courses through Adams State,” said Johnson, who takes evening courses in algebra and environmental science. “They send teachers here. I’m tired of the tough guy career. I’m trying to do something to make my family and myself proud. I’m trying to be more of a positive role-model for my peers.”

In addition to his college courses, Johnson spends the morning in educator Becky Kelly’s health class. He plans to go into the cosmetology courses in the near future. After the recent closure of the women’s prison, the cosmetology program was moved into the men’s prison, and has received popular appraisal among the inmates who are waiting for a new saloon-style classroom.

“This is the first cosmo program in a men’s prison,” said instructor Rebecca Roller. “It is exactly like the course taught at PCC or any other cosmetology courses. Once these guys are done, they’ll be able to go to the state board and get a provisional license. It’s a very good incentive program.”

Both the culinary arts and cosmetology programs within CTCF are self-supporting.

Culinary arts instructor Russ Crawford has been with CTCF five years and works with a dozen students up to 35 hours a week for their 10 college credits through Pueblo Community College.

“This is a part of the segment of the job market that’s increasing. They always need cooks and food service,” Crawford said. “And, they take great pride in doing a good job. The biggest thing for us is to get them thinking along those lines. When they do graduate, they are so proud and that’s why we have a graduation ceremony.”

Waiting times for the classes are not necessarily based on a first-come basis. Often, an inmate with a closer release date will be moved to the top of the list in order to prepare them for the transition.

Health class student David Brumbley said he is hoping to get into other classes, but with a 2025 possible release date, he knows his wait is longer.

“I’d love to get into computer class, but my out date is too far away right now,” Brumbley said. “There’s people getting out sooner, which it will help, so they give them priority. It makes sense. I don’t like it, but it makes sense.”

CTCF also offers courses or vocational programming in janitorial, plumbing, electrical, construction, landscaping, canine training, adult basic education and GED. Colorado Correctional industries programs are those which have to produce money, such as the license plate manufacturing and the canine training program.

“It would be great to have more,” Kelly said. “But with the budget, we’re lucky to have the teachers we have. Luckily, we have a governor that’s pro-programs. The more education you have when you leave, the better your chances are of not coming back.”

Those students who complete a certificate program often use their skills within CTCF during their time.

“If you look at the statistics of men’s facilities,” Johnson said, “men who are in an educational program that suits them and interests them are less prone to get into risky or violent behavior.”

Support Local Journalism