Raina Rikleman used to take extra measures to stay away from law enforcement, but she now sees police in a different light.
She is one of a number of former prison inmates who have learned newfound skills and are turning their lives around with help from a partnership between the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office and the non-profit JobTrain organization.
Under the program, medium-security inmates spend 17 weeks in vocational training classes. The participants additionally receive job placement assistance and extensive follow-up support as they embark on their new careers after leaving prison.
Rikleman, who was released from custody in November and graduated from JobTrain's carpentry program earlier this month, took part in vocational training while she was in custody at the women's transitional facility in Redwood City. Her application for the program had initially been denied because she had a history of cutting off the ankle monitors she was required to wear during parole periods associated with previous convictions.
But Rikleman said several sheriff's deputies who worked with her while she was in custody went to bat for her, advocating that she be admitted to the JobTrain program. She recalled how support from deputies in the Alternative Sentencing Bureau came with the contingency that she be trusted to wear an ankle monitor as she commuted by bus from the women's transitional facility to her classes at JobTrain's Menlo Park campus.
“They told me, 'You have the power to make us look very good or very bad,'” Rikleman remembered.
Having served a total of five sentences for property crimes during a 10-year period, Rikleman says drug abuse played a role in her legal problems. Despite the temptation for inmates to acquire drugs while in custody, Rikleman said she kicked her crystal meth habit during her incarceration. “There's always drugs in jail,” said Rikleman, who began using cocaine at the age of 11 and switched to methamphetamine use when she was 18. “I just made a choice to be clean.”
Getting clean and working toward her rehabilitation has changed her relationship with law enforcement, Rikleman says, and it's been quite an adjustment. She said Sheriff's Office personnel attended her graduation from the JobTrain program and frequently call to check in with her, having conversations that are awkward, but greatly appreciated.
“I've gone from running from the cops to running to the cops,” Rikleman said, “It's strange to have family-type support from a bunch of cops.”
JobTrain career counselor Holly Hanson worked closely with Rikleman during her training, and said the recent graduate is not alone in feeling like she has a new family. “Our secret sauce is that we create personal relationships with our students and we follow their progress,” Hanson said. “It's something they really don't have with their own families.”
An accredited learning institution, JobTrain also serves students who are not incarcerated, offering them a wider variety of classes than those available to inmates, Hanson noted. The job training programs for inmates include carpentry, a pre-apprentice laborer program for the construction industry, culinary arts, and business administration.