Job fair for inmates provides help, hope

INTERVIEWS: The event is the first of its kind at the California Institution for Women.
11:03 PM PDT on Saturday, June 4, 2005

By PAIGE AUSTIN / The Press-Enterprise

There have been bigger and more glamorous job fairs.

In fact, with only one prospective employer at Saturday's job fair near Corona, some might describe the turnout as dismal.

The first job fair ever held behind the prison walls of the California Institution for Women was the brainchild of a handful of inmates. The event gave 50 women a chance to dream about and plan for their success on the outside.

Many came dressed in their prison-issued denim, and peach rubber-soled flip flops. Some will be paroled next week and others may never get out. All came armed with resumes and months of training in interviewing skills and business ethics.

"My interview was the bomb," said Romarilyn Baker, after interviewing for a minimum-wage position as a telemarketer for The Press-Enterprise. Poised, energetic and articulate, Baker holds a bachelor's degree in human behavior and she currently is earning her master's degree.

She will be eligible for parole in June 2006 after serving 17 years for second-degree murder. Her dream is to someday help fellow inmate Mary Thompson found a Christian center, but in the mean time, any job will do.

"I've been in prison most of my life, and I would gladly take out the trash. I would do house keeping. I would walk dogs -- anything to help me succeed in my parole," Baker said. "This job fair gives me more than just hope. It gives me something tangible."

Saturday's job fair may result in job offers for some women paroling soon, and still others will be able to take letters of intent to hire to their next parole hearing. A second larger job fair is scheduled for August.
Officials from Chaffey College's Workforce Preparation Program also attended the job fair to encourage women to take advantage of free job training after they are paroled. The 12-week program prepares participants for and places them in well-paid careers in construction or the computer industry. The program also helps students overcome stumbling blocks for parolees such as obtaining a driver license, getting a bus pass and looking for affordable housing.

Along with Baker, Thompson, a third-striker serving 25 years for stealing three designer jumpsuits, thought up the job fair after seeing friends return to prison for failed paroles.

"There is an astronomical recidivism rate because many of these girls shy away from the workforce because they don't know how to interview," Thompson said. "They weren't leaving here prepared, and that has to change so they don't go back to the same things that got them here in the first place. This job fair is the ultimate parole planning seminar."

Reach Paige Austin at (951) 893-2106 or

Action Committee for Women in Prison
1249 N. Holliston
Pasadena, California 91104