Years of “stinkin’ thinkin’ and bad behavior” finally landed Katherine Burch in a maximum-security prison. That’s where she turned her life around.
“Everything that’s happened started inside the prison, and when I got out it just blossomed,” Burch said.
When she was released from Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud, she was hired for a warehouse position at Electro Enterprises Inc. She was qualified for the job because of the training she got through the Skills Center inside the prison.
But Burch had something more.
“The effort she put out for a warehouse position stood out,” said Brenda Aylor, human resources manager at Electro Enterprises in Oklahoma City. Burch was well spoken, well dressed and presented a portfolio at the interview.
“She had the drive and desire to give 110 percent if someone would just give her that opportunity,” Aylor said.
That was more than two years ago.
Training and support
In addition to teaching technical skills — such as operating a forklift or a welding torch — the Skills Centers help inmates with life skills ranging from personal finances to preparing a resume and interviewing for a job.
“They go the extra mile,” said Burch, 52.
Her instructor, Jason Morgan, even showed up at her job interview to offer support.
“It’s being a cheerleader. I have to make them believe they can do it,” Morgan said. “Our job is to build them up where they are ready to be wildly successful.”
He went to Electro Enterprises before sending Burch for an interview to make sure they would be open to interviewing a former inmate. Talking to employers in advance takes the pressure off applicants when it comes to the question, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?”
“Sometimes we have to knock on a lot of doors. That way they don’t get all the doors slammed in their face,” Morgan said.
At the Mabel Bassett Skills Center, Morgan developed a pilot program of blended learning, which combines an online component with personal instruction.
Inmates nearing the end of their incarceration are selected for the program. They work at their own pace on computers to learn the material, which gives the instructor more time to get to know each student and to help with hands-on training.
The instructor is “the guide at their side,” Morgan said. “We let them own their education and the changes in their life.”