Santee, California based Rise Up Industries Inc. is not your typical job shop. They have 3000’ sq.ft. of manufacturing with Haas mills, Haas lathes, and a staff of about 8 people. They service a variety of industries, but the reality is they are doing you, me, and society a greater service. Their mission is to minimize gang involvement by providing integrated gang prevention and supply post-detention reentry services. A key component of their reentry program is full time employment and 18 months of on the job training in their CNC equipped machine shop.
Joe Gilbreath is the director/founder of Rise Up Industries Inc. He was working with Kairos prison ministries when a book was brought to his attention. “One of the books that was making the rounds was Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion,” tells Joe. “It is by Jesuit priest Father Greg Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. I was moved by reading it, and went to see him speak at one of the local prisons. I chatted with a few inmates who were getting ready to be released and asked them what they were going to do. They were clueless as to what was out there available to them. When we were walking back to our cars I asked Father Boyle if Homeboy Industries was only in Los Angeles. He explained that it was, but that 25 other non-profits in the US have used Homeboy as a model for their own 503(c).” That got Joe thinking, and after researching it he found that there were no similar programs operating in San Diego County. Homeboy Industries is recognized as one of the most effective gang prevention programs in the country. Homeboy Industries has social enterprises where they employ members in jobs that support their programs. They have Homeboy Bakery, Homegirl Café, Homeboy Salsa, Homeboy silk screening, and the list goes on and on.
Rise Up Industries incorporated in 2013 and it took a full year before getting their 501c3 status. Joe had met an inmate who was training fellow inmates in a vocational CNC program for 14 years. He turned his life around in prison, got paroled, and was released four years ago after serving 25 years of a life sentence. Joe picked him up two weeks after he got out and took him down to a job interview at a local manufacturing facility. “The company specialized in welding equipment and industrial products,” tells Joe. “I didn’t know it at the time, but they had a few CNC machining centers as well. This guy was terrified going into the interview. He did the interview and they gave him a shop tour. Sitting on the shop floor was the same Haas machine he had been training people on for years. That was a touchstone for him, and he hit it off with the guys in the department. Well they hired him, and he now heads up the one of the manufacturing sectors. Our initial idea was to do silk screening and coffee for our first two enterprises. He inspired us that a machine shop might be a great option. We began researching CNC and saw that being a CNC machinist was a well-respected, high paying job. We also learned that the industry was in desperate need of qualified applicants to help fill the skills gap they are experiencing. We got connected to Haas and they entrusted us with our first piece of CNC equipment (a TMP1) at no charge for two years.” Rise Up Industries machine shop started in 500 feet of garage space near the airport. They had no clue about CNC. “We could barely spell CNC,” jokes Joe. “But we knew enough to hire people who could do the job we wanted. So, we placed an ad in the paper for a shop manager / trainer for the formerly incarcerated.”
Dustin Greeves first saw the ad in December of 2015. As a 25-year veteran of mold making he was looking for a change, but wasn’t sure training ex-cons was the job for him. After seeing the ad again he looked up Joe and downloaded Tattoos on the Heart. “I listened to the first chapter and knew exactly what they were trying to accomplish,” tells Dustin, shop manager at Rise Up Industries Inc. “I interviewed and got the job. My first day the Haas machine was delivered to the garage. I was paranoid that it wasn’t going to fit. In February 2016, we were ready to roll and hired our first member soon after. It has been quite the journey so far.” Members are paid minimum wage and receive 18 months of CNC training partnered with other useful reentry tools like life skills, work ethics, spiritual guidance, case management services and counseling. Members work full time, 40 hours a week with the flexibility necessary for people who just got released from long term prison sentences. Dustin based the curriculum on his decades of industry experience. “I know what employers are looking for in a new employee,” explains Dustin. “So, the training is based off what Darren and I know from our combined 50 years in manufacturing. Members get work experience on mills and lathes, plus math, blueprint reading, and some CAD. We are a working, full service, job shop with milling and turning. Any job that comes through the door is part of the curriculum. We do actual jobs, for actual customers.” Angel ran a manual lathe in prison back in the 80’s but he is the only member who had ever seen machining equipment. “The members come here with no idea what CNC is,” tells Dustin. “These guys have been locked up for decades and don’t have any computer training. Computer is the first C in CNC, so they are starting from scratch.” Dustin and his #2 Darren Stotts are building the program on the fly. As a job shop they never know what they get, but Rise Up is beginning to get repeat business and is the manufacturing partner on a new to market product. “Trent, the inmate Joe spoke of earlier invented a product,” details Dustin. “He invented fire hydrant valve to prevent failing fire hydrants from doing hundred of thousands of dollars in damage.”
Since its inception Rise Up Industries had the vision of a 3000 sq.ft. shop with five machining centers, running two shifts for a total of 12 members. Members are staggered throughout Rise Up’s three-phase program. Each block of training is six months long: entry level, experience level and pure mentor. The goal is for members in the mentor stage to be able to help the newest members just starting out. Teaching someone to do something is the best way to learn and get better at it yourself. Their budget goal was $470,000, but through individual donations and private foundations they raised $490,000 in no time. “Thanks to generous donors we were able to expand into our new shop pretty quickly,” elaborates Joe. “Were able to add members, buy more machines, increase training materials and move into a larger building. Money is great, but what we really need now is partners in the community to hire our graduates.”
Rise Up Industries is looking for exposure on a multitude of fronts. First and foremost, they are in need of shops and manufacturers to believe in the program to help place graduates. “Companies who read CNC West Magazine are in a position to offer assistance in a lot of ways,” describes Joe. “Maybe you are not sure of wanting to hire an ex- inmate, but want to support our efforts. Buy coffee from us; send us your next shirt order. Better yet of course would be to have these guys come interview for positions. I think potential employers will be surprised by how hard these guys work, and their dedication to learning. I encourage any of the readers who might be on the fence about hiring from within our program to come down, meet the guys, and see the operation in person. We have a weekly e-mail newsletter that they can sign up for as well. That list is growing as more people and companies hear about us.”
“We take the people that have made the decision to change their lives,” continues Dustin. “We are in a position to help them continue down that path with a career in manufacturing.” It took their member Angel Ramirez 27 years of incarceration before he turned his life around in prison enough to be considered for parole. It was another 14 years before he got released. People think you can just fake your way through a parole hearing, but members explained that isn’t the case. “The parole board sees through all the BS,” tells member Nicholas Fox. “It isn’t easy to get a parole date. You really have to change your ways inside before you even can think about seeing the outside.” It is a common misconception that the vast majority of released prisoners go right back to jail within three years. That statistic is true except when it comes to lifers. Research shows that less than 5% of lifers end up back in jail in the same three-year period. They have more to lose. If they mess up, they are never getting out again, and will die in jail. Rise Up Industries recruits from that pool of released prisoners. Daniel Magueflor is the first graduate of Rise Up Industries’ CNC machining course. He served 16 years in federal prison before being released two years ago and becoming a member. Daniel finished the program in November and came out of it with a new career at a local San Diego manufacturer. “They hired me at $16 an hour starting,” brags Daniel. “I have benefits, bonuses, paid vacation, and a career for the first time in my life. I’m thrilled, my family is thrilled, I’m so excited to get a second chance at having a real life.”
“It’s so awesome that Brian Harrigan from Chick Workholding Solutions gave you our information,” praises Dustin. “We knew nothing about Chick vises until it was recommended to us on the last machine we purchased. We love the One-Loc vises now. Brian is a great guy, and we are humbled that he thought enough of us to make introductions. Industry connections are just what we need. It is important to us to have a good reputation. I tell these guys the trade will give you back everything that you give it. It might not be overnight, but one thing these guys have is patience. You tell them it will be a few years before it really pays off for them and they embrace that. They did hard time, success is an easy sentence to look forward to.” It is estimated that 1000 prisoners with life sentences will be released in San Diego County next year alone. They are being released either way; helping to facilitate them into a useful member of society is in everyone’s best interest. Rise Up Industries already has a waiting list for their machining program. “I hate to see anyone on the waiting list,” tells Joe. “One or a hundred it doesn’t matter. I feel badly that I can’t help them all. Workers are members. It is about belonging and a sense of family. The number one cited reason kids join gangs is so they have a place to belong. So, our students go from being gang members to Rise Up members and most importantly members of society. One person on the waiting list is too many.”
Most people can’t relate at all to being in prison for 20 years. They don’t know anyone who has served any kind of hard time. It is difficult without direct exposure to feel empathy. It is understandable that you question the unknown. These guys did their crime and did their time. They are not looking for a handout, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need a hand up. The world changes constantly, missing 16, 24 or even 41 years would be a shock to anyone. “They train me as much as I train them,” concludes Dustin. “You listen to these guys and your problems are not that bad. Their life experiences are pretty phenomenal. I go home every night feeling good about my lot in life. I’m making a difference in the lives of people who really need it. It is very inspiring, and not everyone gets that from their job.”