Crystal Magana spent more than 10 years behind bars – a total of 198 months. A few weeks before she was released from Coffee Creek, prison staff took her on a field trip to learn about resources from different agencies. SE Works, one of Prosper Portland’s workforce partners through collaboration with Worksystems Inc, was one of those agencies. She met career coach Cindy Pollard there and began a journey that took her through frustration and fear to confidence and empowerment.
Cindy enrolled Crystal in PREP, SE Works’ Prisoner Reentry Employment Program and guided her toward Women in Trades training. She said, “Crystal was fragile when she first started working with me, but it didn’t take long before she gained confidence. In prison, a person can feel beaten down, so it is very important to have someone to build you up and help you realize that you are valuable and have wonderful skills to offer an employer and the community.”
“I’d been inside so long I didn’t know where to look or start,” Crystal said. “I thought SE Works was just a temporary hiring place. But I heard from Cindy that they could help me put together a resume and connect me with thinking about goals for an actual career. Cindy was so helpful when I got out: she gave me a voucher for Fred Meyer for basic items; she even made sure I had the right boots for my Women in Trades program.”
Today Crystal is a first term ironworker apprentice and was officially sworn in to Northwest Ironworkers Local 29 in January 2017. She’s currently working on a large industrial project in The Dalles. “I’m the only woman working there, and not a single foreman or fellow ironworker has ever been anything but helpful and encouraging and supportive. It’s been a great experience. I wouldn’t be in that position if it wasn’t for these programs,” she said.
The SE Works assistance has meant a lot to her. “I was pretty nervous and scared and unsure,” Crystal said. “it showed me that people see me as more than a number or someone in prison blues. I haven’t had a lot of that in my life.”
Both Crystal and Cindy recognize and value the alignment between the SE Works program and Prosper Portland’s commitment to creating more opportunity for diverse communities.
Cindy said, “I’m seeing a huge increase in females being incarcerated and releasing. Most are victims of trauma to begin with. Assisting these talented women with specific resources, helping them to realize their value and coaching them to advocate for themselves prepares them to be successful in securing living wage careers. We celebrate employment, self-sufficiency, DHS cases successfully closing and gaining custody of children, families becoming whole again and moms being able to support them. It’s a wonderful thing.”
And Crystal is putting her experience to work through advocacy and encouraging pre-release training to give incarcerated women a head start. She said, “Before I left prison I started standing up not just for myself but other people. When you do time like I’ve done, those women become your extended family. And I think about how I can help them. I went to City Hall and spoke on behalf of the trades and what it means when people like me can go through programs for free. If the money and support that go into SE Works wasn’t there, I would probably be 10-15 steps behind where I am now. “