Vocational Training, Certifications, Caring Staff and Much More at the Cleveland Correctional Center

“Everything that is available here,” says Abel Veras, “I try to take advantage of, because I do feel that it’ll prepare me for when I am released.”

Abel is a resident at the Cleveland Correctional Center in Cleveland, Texas, which is a facility focused on creating opportunities for change.

“The fact of the matter is every offender that we have at this facility will be going home,” says Warden Michael Upshaw. “It’s our responsibility to try to do everything we can to ensure that man is a good neighbor when he gets back out into society.”

One of the most popular programs offered at Cleveland is NCCER Electrical. Patricia Burnham is the instructor. After a 40-year career in the field, she decided to help give incarcerated men a chance for change.

“I didn’t know at first if it was the type of work for me,” she relates, “and it definitely is. I love it. And I feel like I have a lot to give.”

Abel Veras explains more of his prospects. “Now realizing the opportunities that are available to me after learning what I’ve learned through electrical and the many jobs available in that field, I feel that this is something that I’m definitely going to try to pursue.”

David Borunda, another resident and fellow student, also sees opportunity in the electrical training. “I do plan on being an electrician when I get out, and from my understanding, this NCCER certification will help me become a journeyman.”

“I have some that are really wanting to get into electricity,” states Instructor Burnham. “I’ve let them know about apprenticeship programs in other trades as well, and they’re very interested. I’m happy for them, and I’ll help them in any way I can.”

In Part II of this story, we’ll take a look at another popular program at Cleveland—the Prison Entrepreneurship Program. It’s all part of a facility-wide mentality of creating opportunities for change.

“My teacher, Miss Burnham,” David reflects, “she’s not only teaching us what’s in the book, but she’s also teaching us her skills that she has been taught over time.”

Abel joins in her praise. “I’ve been incarcerated for about 11 years now, and this is just—not to blow smoke or anything—just honestly speaking; that’s been the most caring person that I’ve ran across the whole time in this system. When you speak about somebody that’s kind, that cares about your well-being as a human and treats you as one? This is the person that’s a picture of that.”

Warden Upshaw agrees. He praises all of his staff.

“The staff are what makes this unit operate the way it does. I’m just very blessed and honored to be their warden and support them and represent them. But they’re the ones that make it all go each day. They’re the ones that are back there in the trenches and keep the facility running and operating the way it does, and I’m very blessed.”

About Oliver J. Bell Unit

Oliver J. Bell Unit is accredited by the American Correctional Association—
achieving 100% compliance for both mandatory and non-mandatory standards in
its most recent audit. Other accreditations and certifications include the Correctional
Education Association, National Center for Construction Education and Research
(NCCER), and the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).