New State-of-the-Art Machine Shop Opens at San Quentin

Who would have imagined that a machine shop with the most sophisticated equipment would be built behind the walls at San Quentin (SQ) State Prison? Well, it was, and it is extraordinary.

On May 17, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) Office of Correctional Education (OCE) and SQ hosted a celebration unveiling of the new machine shop.

The CDCR evaluates programs to ensure curriculum and equipment are at industry standards. Through that process, in 2012 SQ’s machine shop equipment was identified as being obsolete and it was found that training was not providing inmates with adequate skills to be competitive in the job market once paroled. The machines had also gone unused for over a year.

Armed with this information, Mike Valdez, Vice Principal of the Office of Correctional Education, started researching ways to solve this problem by funding a state-of-the-art program with new machinery, curriculum and teachers. Mike learned about TV host Titan Gilroy and his high-end machine shop and paid him a visit in May 2015.

Titan Gilroy speaking at the Restoration and Establishment of Titans of CNC, “21st Century Manufacturing and Engineering and Design Practices Program.”

Titan Gilroy speaking at the Restoration and Establishment of Titans of CNC, “21st Century Manufacturing and Engineering and Design Practices Program.”

Gilroy is the owner of Titans of CNC, an aerospace shop in Northern California. He is also the Executive Producer and star of the television series “TITANS of CNC” (formerly “TITAN American Built”) which airs on MAVTV. This series inspires a new generation of skilled machinists, inventors and builders to help revive the industry. Gilroy himself is an example of rehabilitation having served time in a Hawaii state prison.  When he was released, Gilroy opened his business and after 10 years, it’s been a success. Titans of CNC uses high-tech CNC (Computer Numeral Control) machines, solid modeling, and the most advanced CAD/CAM Software. These machines are used to create parts of tools by utilizing computers to precisely form machine materials.

Valdez spoke to Gilroy about his vision to enhance the old machine shop in SQ with new machinery and asked if he could help.  Gilroy never thought he would be trying to get back into prison but, when he heard it would be teaching inmates, he was 100 percent in, wanting to give back.

The enhanced program is an invaluable and inspiring opportunity for the right inmates. They must be serious about wanting to learn and not everybody is accepted. Applicants are required to complete a program application, and demonstrate their interest in an interview. Applications were submitted in November 2015 and interviews were conducted soon after. Mike Valdez said, “During the interviews, it was the most impactful day of my 30-year career. Some of these inmates could finally have a chance.”

The class participants were selected and now they had to prepare the space. In January 2016, clean-up started.  Dante Callegari, instructor of Construction Technology at SQ, and a team of inmate construction students painstakingly gutted the old machine shop. They built the area where the new equipment would be placed. The new inmate students for the CNC program also helped.

A vocational instructor was hired in May and the program began in June.  The full program will run approximately 18 months and inmates will receive certification. The new equipment and the learning program will help inmates learn valuable skills to become successful machinists when they return to the community.

Titan Gilroy says, “This is bringing rehabilitation to a whole new level.”  Inmates seem to be very inspired by the program. Titan Gilroy’s video crew also spoke with inmates about the machine shop. One said, “For 20 years, I haven’t seen this type of hope.” Another said, “I think my life is going to change for the better.” And yet another said, “I know when I am given the opportunity that I will be successful. It’s gonna happen.”

Inmate students in the machine shop are working towards using a simulator and it typically takes six months to be able to graduate to that level. But during testing of this curriculum, an inmate made a product through the simulator in just one month. Carl Bass, former CEO of Autodesk, one of the largest CAD (computer aided design) companies said, “the people who use our tools are engineers, architects, designers and artists, from the smallest companies in the world, like a one-person machine shop, to the largest construction, manufacturing, aerospace and automotive companies.”

What can the SQ machines make? Examples include highly sophisticated medical devices, parts for airplanes, aerospace grade parts that are used for rockets, and other industry standard grade products.

The photograph below shows an inmate working on a Surface Book Pro, donated by Microsoft, utilizing Fusion 360 CAD/CAM Software

The photograph below shows an inmate working on a Surface Book Pro, donated by Microsoft, utilizing Fusion 360 CAD/CAM Software

This is the first step in design where a part is modeled from a blueprint. Taking a standard piece of aluminum about 5 inches x 2 ½ inches x ¾ inch, based on the blue print, the inmate will draw and model the part in 3D.  Once modeled in 3D, the tooling path is simulated to demonstrate that it should work in the real world.

The learning curve for these students is outside of the norm.  Using the training methods developed by Titan Gilroy, students are exposed to engineering and CNC coding principals from day one then moving to CNC machining in as little as 30 days.

In the next step (see below) students work on the Control Panel (simulator) which is at the same height that they sit on the machines that do the cutting and produce the end product. This coding machine is needed to ensure everything seen in 3D actually works.  This process allows the student to ensure the detection of any failure in the design loading onto the appropriate machine.

Inmate using machine cutter

The last step is a machine cuts and forms the material and the picture below shows the final product.

The machines in the SQ shop can produce a broad range of items programmed by the operator.

The machines in the SQ shop can produce a broad range of items programmed by the operator.

Currently this updated program and machinery is only available at SQ.  It was made possible in large part through the hard work of OCE and SQ staff, and funded through Department of Rehabilitative Program resources and a portion of the Carl Perkins federal grant. To stay current and relevant to the industry, the equipment will be inspected every five years to ensure it is still meeting the industry standards.

OCE’s goal is to find ways to fund machine shop programs at California Men’s Colony, California State Prison, Corcoran, and Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility.  As was with SQ, those shops are not to current standards.

Titan filmed five episodes for his TV show to document the journey at SQ. Below you can see some of his crew interviewing an inmate student who was part of the construction crew.

You can watch the TV episodes through these links:

Episode 1 –

Episode 2 –

Episode 3 –

Episode 4 –

Episode 5 –

CDCR is committed to investing in offender rehabilitation, and OCE staff are working to make rehabilitative programs available.  For more information about CDCR, please contact Office of External Affairs at (916) 445-4950.