Welding program offered at Wisconsin women's prison
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Welding program offered at Wisconsin women's prison

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Taycheedah inmates offered opportunity to learn welding in prison

TERRI PEDERSON

tpederson@wiscnews.com

FOND DU LAC — Miranda Watermolen knows she has made mistakes, but she believes a new program at Taycheedah Correctional Institution will help her overcome them.

“I definitely didn’t think I’d go into prison and come out a welder,” Watermolen said.

Watermolen is serving a two-year sentence for drug possession and is scheduled to be released in about six months. She is one of three people on track to complete the welding program while serving her sentence with the hope of finding a good-paying job upon release.

The 32-year-old said she plans to return to the Green Bay area.

“It’s an opportunity for a whole new life for me at a better pay rate,” Watermolen said.

A mobile welding lab and a job center were added to the medium/maximum women’s prison near Fond du Lac in March. The welding lab is equipped with eight welders and tables so eight women could be enrolled and weld at the same time. The job center, where inmates can search job listings, was added last week through a partnership between the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. It is the second job center in a Wisconsin prison. The first opened at Oakhill Correctional Institution in Oregon in 2018.

Moraine Park Technical College assisted with the welding addition. Moraine Park President Bonnie Baerwald said the welding lab is based off of the welding boot camp model used at the tech school. The boot camp was created to address a skilled worker storage. The boot camps were developed in 2012 as 15-week courses with a certificate issued to those who complete the program.

“They can later get a technical diploma if they decide to after their release,” Baerwald said.

There are no fees for those who enroll in the prison welding program.

Amanda Franzen of Oshkosh also is in the welding program at Taycheedah. Franzen, 38, said not only do inmates learn about welding, but also blueprint reading and team building. They also complete 72 hours each of gas metal arc welding and tungsten inert gas welding to finish the course.

Franzen, in prison due to a probation violation, said she is scheduled to be released Nov. 5 and has been working on her resume and applying for jobs.

“That way I can have a job when I leave here and start working right away,” Franzen said. “I can’t wait.”

Franzen was convicted of a 2014 burglary and sentenced to four years of probation in September 2015. She pleaded no contest last year to being a felon in possession of a firearm, a violation of her probation that led to her stay at Taycheedah. She said this stint has been her first time in prison — and will be her last.

“Change is a choice,” Franzen said. “You have to choose to do something better, and I feel this is the start of it.”

Rachel Fryda-Gehde, a social worker at Taycheedah, said there are computers in the job center for people to work on their resumes and apply for jobs. Employers can email the applicants and set up phone interviews.

Kaileigh Selig of Appleton is one of the inmates benefiting from the job center.

Selig, 32, said she doesn’t have a lot of job experience, but is open to anything near her home when she leaves prison.

“I was pretty excited that I was offered to do this,” said Selig, who was convicted on felony drug charges three times from 2010-14. “Some people get out with nothing. They are homeless and without a dollar when they leave here.”

The job center offers programs and services that include career readiness programs, job search assistance, resume development, services for veterans, registered apprenticeships and assistance for individuals with disabilities.

The mobile welding lab will be moved to Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution, a male prison in Plymouth, when the current Taycheedah enrollees are finished.

“As we need it, it can go throughout the state,” said Anna Neal, the Department of Corrections’ re-entry employment coordinator.

Other vocational and educational programs offered at Taycheedah include a cosmetology program, office software application program, adult basic education, special education and Salvation Army projects.

Wisconsin Department of Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr said each of the prisons has an area of work education in it.

“If you give a person an opportunity to be employed at a rate where they can support their family and have self-worth, then you send an important message not to reoffend,” Carr said.

Follow Terri Pederson on Twitter @tlp53916 or contact her at 920-356-6760.

Follow Terri Pederson on Twitter @tlp53916 or contact her at 920-356-6760.

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