With MATC Welding Certificates, Future Brighter for 10 Men in the Correctional System

Graduation held for college’s Second Chance Pell program Fall 2023 participants

Mark Feldmann, feldmam1@matc.edu

December 21, 2023

DOC Welding

I hope others see me and know there are ways to make it out of bad environments, that there are other ways besides stealing cars and dealing drugs and playing with guns. You can make yourself better.

Jevon Curtis MATC Second Chance Pell program Fall 2023 graduate

In his 34 years on earth, Jevon Curtis has been many things: a car thief, a drug dealer, a convicted felon and a prison inmate.

This month, he was, for the first time in a long time, a success.

“It’s never too late to make changes in our lives,” said Curtis, who is currently serving a seven-year sentence for possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance. “I hope others see me and know there are ways to make it out of bad environments, that there are other ways besides stealing cars and dealing drugs and playing with guns. You can make yourself better.”

Curtis was one of 10 men in the care of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections who chose to improve their lives by participating in Milwaukee Area Technical College’s Second Chance Pell program, which provides federal aid to people in state and federal prisons so they can receive postsecondary education while serving their sentences.

The men attended welding classes for 16 weeks., Curtis and nine others received welding certificates at a ceremony held December 19 at MATC’s Downtown Milwaukee Campus.

See TV coverage of the ceremony

Once released, the men could return to MATC to further their welding education or use the certificate to secure welding jobs that start at more than $20 an hour. 

“We did this not only for ourselves, but for you, for our family and friends, and for our community,” said Curtis, who was the student speaker at the event.

MATC was the first Wisconsin college to participate in the Second Chance Pell program, which was created in 2015. “We have been a pioneer in securing financial aid for those in care of the state,” said MATC President Vicki J. Martin, Ph.D. 

So far, about 150 students in the care of the corrections department have participated in the Second Chance Pell program, with 26 of them earning welding certificates. Others have received CNC certificates.

“You have seized the opportunity to take a different direction in life, taken advantage of educational options and forged a new path that we know means more job opportunities, higher incomes and less chance of going back into a correctional facility upon release,” Dr. Martin told the graduates. 

“You have people in this room who believe in the power of your transformation: correctional staff, MATC faculty, MATC staff and family and friends,” Dr. Martin added. “Remember that we believe in your second chance and we thank you for your commitment, tenacity and willingness to be transformed.”

Ray Woodruff, the re-entry director for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections agreed. “I firmly believe that individuals have the capacity to change their lives,” he said. “No one can change the past, but you are taking steps to change the future. You deserve to be recognized today and deserve a chance at success in the future.”

“You have harnessed the power of education to break the cycle,” said Sadique Ishaku, MATC’s executive dean of academic strategy and innovation and dean of the General Education Pathway. “You have embraced the opportunity to redefine your life; transforming raw materials into something strong, functional and useful.”

Statistics have shown that those who participate in the Second Chance Pell program cut their chances of returning to prison almost in half, Ishaku said. 

A 2018 RAND Corporation study showed that inmates who participate in educational programs while in prison have a 48% lower chance of returning to prison within three years of release than those who don’t.

The graduates attended welding classes at their correctional facility every weekday and on Saturdays for 16 weeks, earning 17 college credits. 

“When a person is eager to learn, anything is possible,” said David Lunz, the MATC welding instructor for the Second Chance Pell program. “Plus, now that you can weld, you’re about one hundred times cooler than someone who can’t weld.”

Learn about MATC’s correctional education opportunities

About MATC: Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 30,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 180 academic programs — many that prepare students for jobs immediately upon completion and others that provide transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities.