ISTC Diesel Mechanics Grad Keeps Fleet Rolling

April 14, 2017

Howard is among the hundreds of inmates who take advantage of career technical training offered by ISTC during their incarceration. A unique part of the Alabama Community College System, ISTC serves incarcerated students exclusively, offering training in 18 career fields. The college also offers GED preparation and testing services, and assists students with job placement.

Graduating from the diesel mechanics program is the latest step in a journey of self-improvement for Howard that began with earning his GED. “I had real anger issues,” he explained, “I realized part of that anger came from not knowing how to do things like reading and math. Getting my GED changed that.” Howard said earning his GED also gave him the confidence to consider other possibilities.

Why diesel mechanics? Howard was working in the kitchen at Ventress Correctional Facility when a repairman came to service a generator. A chance conversation with the repairman, combined with recollections of watching others make repairs to the family’s farm machinery, sparked an idea. When an ADOC classification officer asked if he would like to learn a trade Howard was quick to say yes. Following up on his idea, Howard opted for diesel mechanics, which meant a transfer to rural Elmore county and Staton Correctional Facility.

After he arrived at Staton, Howard learned he would not be eligible to attend ISTC right away. Both ISTC and ADOC have guidelines regarding eligibly for enrollment, and while he had the academic ability, Howard had too much time left on his sentence. 

In the summer of 2014, Howard enrolled and started classes. Still plagued by anger, he was working independently on a lab assignment when a student aide approached him, saying “I can show you how to do that if you want.”

That comment ultimately sparked a friendship which helped Howard put aside his frustration and focus on the curriculum. Soon, it became apparent to instructor Randy Hull that this student had real potential. Hull describes Howard as “a natural,” saying without hesitation, “he is going to make someone an excellent mechanic.”

Like many ISTC students, when Howard graduated in 2015 he had time remaining on his sentence. Hull suggested the new grad pursue an ADOC job assignment which would let him continue building skills until he could start a job search.

The partnership between the ISTC diesel mechanics program and the ADOC “state garage” where Howard is currently assigned is no accident. A veteran diesel mechanic, Hull spent over eight years working for ADOC at the garage, which is located nearly in site of the ISTC diesel mechanics classroom and lab.

“For a graduate who still has time to serve, getting assigned to the garage is a great opportunity,” said Hull. “Not only do they work on a variety of vehicles, which keeps their technical skills honed; they get to practice positive work habits and gain experience which will help them get a better job.”

Howard reports to his job at the garage five days a week, part of a team that combines inmates and state workers. The ADOC fleet numbers well over 700 vehicles, which means there is no shortage of opportunity for him to practice what he learned at ISTC and continue to prepare for a career as an “excellent mechanic”.

Pictured above: Chris Howard uses skills he learned in diesel mechanics  to repair one of the many vehicles owned and operated by ADOC.