On a hot day in Southern California, William Jones dives to the bottom of a deep-water tank. Clad in a heavy helmet and scuba gear, he spends several minutes at the bottom, removing bolts from large metal pipes, and communicating his progress through a radio to a dive tender on the surface.
It’s not just any surface; Jones emerges from the tank to rejoin his teammates inside the California Institution for Men, a state prison in Chino. As he explains in this episode of Jens Gould’s Bravery Tapes, it’s a much different scenario than a decade ago, when Jones made his living through armed robbery. He was caught when he intercepted a small business owner about to make a bank deposit, charged with a felony and sent to this prison. “I wanted to conquer the world one robbery at a time,” Jones tells Jens Erik Gould. “My priorities were all mixed up. I had no plan for myself, for my family, and didn’t care about anything.”
Now, Jones is a student at the Marine Technology Training Center, a state-run program inside the Chino prison that helps felons become divers, welders, riggers, construction supervisors and mechanics. The center has succeeded in doing something the state’s department of rehabilitation as a whole has failed at: consistently rehabilitating criminals. The state’s recidivism rate — the percentage of individuals released from prison who are incarcerated again within three years — was 61 percent last year.
The diving center achieves its success by offering felons a skill set that leads to a more lucrative career path than many were capable of before they were convicted. Inmates usually have little knowledge of diving or the program itself when they apply, but they’re attracted to the school because they want a way to build a better life once they’re released. Average pay in the industry is around $15 an hour at entry level, and annual salaries can climb to $100,000 within four years. That drastically reduces temptations to return to a criminal life.
Watch Jens Erik Gould’s visit to the diving center.
Directed by Jens Erik Gould and Valerie Defert
Produced by Jens Erik Gould and Alex Balassa
Filmed by Sebastian Vuagnat
Edited by Fabiola Ruiz-Ortega and Blindspot Pictures
Music by See Money
Thank you to For Your Information TV and Blindspot Pictures
JENS ERIK GOULD
Jens previously covered music for TIME Magazine and time.com, interviewing artists from Skrillex to Danger Mouse. He has more than a decade of experience covering multiple beats in more than a dozen countries across the globe, including covering Venezuela politics for The New York Times and Mexico’s economy for Bloomberg News. He is also a singer songwriter who has released three albums.