Prison Auto Repair Training Helps Offender Secure New Career After Release

By Rowlanda Cawthon, East Team Leader, Communications

Coyote Ridge Auto Repair Program

An offender at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center
works on a car in the Automotive Repair Program.
Vocational programs help offender secure employment
after release, reducing the likelihood they will
return to prison.

The Department of Corrections provides education and job training programs to help pave the way for successful reentry for offenders. But it’s really up to the offender to re-integrate back into the community as a productive citizen. Former offender Erik Harestad decided that striving for success is much better than following the old beaten path that resulted in his incarceration.

He credits his success to the Automotive Repair program at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center taught by Justin Taylor through Walla Walla Community College. The program offers training in engine performance, electrical and electronics, air conditioning and heating, suspension alignment, and brake repair. Students who successfully complete the course receive a one-year state vocational certificate.

Harestad was one of the students enrolled in the first year of the program. He not only obtained his certification, but also passed five Automotive Service Excellence tests.

“I can’t put into words my gratitude for the automotive program and Walla Walla Community College staff,” said Harestad. “I always loved working on cars but because of my 13-year addiction and choices, I never pursued a career. Honestly, I really had no clue that the vocational training would play such an important role in my life.”

The Department encourages offender participation in vocational education courses such as Automotive Repair because they help increase prison safety by reducing offender idleness and teach the offenders marketable job skills they can use after they finish their prison sentences. Offenders who are gainfully employed are less likely to return to prison.

Harestad said he entered the program thinking it was highly unlikely that he would ever work in an automotive shop or dealership upon release.

 “I started looking for a job immediately after my release in June 2010,” he said. “After going from one minimum wage job to another for six months, I suddenly found myself having absolutely no job. I started turning in applications everywhere and was just giving up when I decided to make one last stop at a local dealership. That stop changed my life.”

After a mini interview the day he turned in his application and a second interview a week later, Harestad was immediately hired.  He’s been working at the dealership for four months now and already received a $2 raise.

“The training and certification made it possible for me to work for a dealership today,” said Harestad. “The automotive repair program just didn’t get me a job, it helped me get a career. My life is changed forever.”

Community Corrections Officer Justin Childers also says Harestad has done an exceptional job in staying clean and sober and obtaining work.  In addition to his job with the dealership, he’s also the house manager for an Oxford House, a community-based clean and sober living environment.

Harestad believes that if he can change and succeed in the community. There’s great potential for other incarcerated offenders to do the same. 

“I hope that any person that is currently in prison either in the automotive program or not could understand that everyone has a chance to make it out here if they don’t waste their time while in prison,” said Harestad.