From Poop to Employment: Jonathan Jones-Thomas shares his experience returning to prison as a guest lecturer

By Jonathan C. Jones-Thomas, Group Three Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator
Photos by Tiffany Webb, SPP Lecture Series Coordinator

Going back to prison to talk to inmates about job opportunities in the industry of wastewater treatment through SPP was indescribable. To return 1 ½ years after serving a 10-year sentence for assault… I told myself I would never go back. I didn’t know I would have the opportunity to go back to encourage others to walk my path, seek out healthy relationships and green job opportunities.

The author poses in the parking lot of Stafford Creek Corrections Center.

The author poses in the parking lot of Stafford Creek Corrections Center.

While incarcerated at the Monroe Correctional Complex (Monroe, WA), I was introduced to the wastewater industry by a “white man” by the name of Brian Funk. Being “black” myself, I didn’t expect to be introduced to education or employment opportunities by “white dudes”. Brian was unique in that he didn’t care about all the prison politics involved with “looking out for your own kind”. He was the type to “just do the right thing”. As the result, four years later, I type this at a computer working for a municipality in Snohomish County; I make good money, and Brian works next to me. He had no idea his small investment in the “black guy” would lead to a career in wastewater for the both of us, plus a plethora of opportunities to encourage others to do the same thing.

We were invited to speak at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (Aberdeen, WA) by Kristin Covey, a Brightwater employee. Brightwater is the upper echelon of wastewater treatment in the state of Washington. Kristin was invited by SPP to present at the prison and decided it would be best to bring two guys along that have been “in” and are now “out” in the industry. Before arriving, Tiffany Webb, SPP Lecture Series Program Coordinator, made clear that there was a growing interest in green jobs post prison. During the two hour drive, Brian and I formulated a plan to maximize our time with the offenders, knowing that there was a unique opportunity for them to hear about the pitfalls and challenges first hand.

waste-water3-presenters

Kristin Covey, Brian Funk, and Jonathan C. Jones-Thomas, three experts in waste water treatment, co-presented to a mesmerized audience.

Walking into the prison was extremely stressful. In the back of my mind I knew I would be leaving in a matter of hours, but in my emotions…I waited to leave prison for 9 years 21 days and here I am inside again. But this time Brian and I have the reputation of SPP and wastewater industry professional, Kristin Covey, arriving and leaving with us. Walking through the breezeway, I looked at all the other fellow inmates thinking, “I wonder if they know I’m one of them.” Brian, having spent time at Stafford Creek Corrections Center, was greeted by a number of fellow inmates. It made me feel more comfortable knowing that they knew we too have walked that breezeway. By the time I got to the classroom I was ready to present. The fifty or so folks that showed up were ready to learn about the career opportunities in the wastewater industry. They didn’t know that I would bombard them with a lesson in life skills. Hopefully, Brian and I made it clear: you don’t get to get out of prison and maintain success in any industry, or life for that matter, without personal growth. Education is the key to a successful, sustainable transition back to society. It was awesome…

Brian and Jonathan C. Jones-Thomas learned about waste water treatment in-prison and went on to make it a career after release.

Brian Funk and Jonathan C. Jones-Thomas learned about waste water treatment while incarcerated, and they have turned their expertise into careers.

3 Comments:

  1. Do Prisons Play a Role in Environmental Issues? – US Prison News

    […] dumping of waste into the Skykomish River. Now free, Jones-Thomas works in wastewater treatment and gives lectures on his experiences. Although his work while prison brought publicity to the problem, the situation […]

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