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A TITAN of Industry

Titan Gilroy might be the star of a TV show and the owner of a successful business, but he could still relate to the Michigan prisoners sitting in front of him. After all, he was in their shoes once. Gilroy, who landed in prison as a young man following a fight outside a nightclub, spoke to prisoners in the Vocational Villages at Parnall and Richard A. Handlon correctional facilities about how skilled trades changed his life. “If you put the work in, you can rise up to the greatness that is in each of you,” Gilroy told prisoners. Gilroy, a former boxer, returned to the sport after his release from prison, but was pulled back into the violence that sent him there in the first place. He decided to leave boxing, and instead answered an ad for a job at a machine shop that would change his life. He was driven to excel and quickly advanced, learning everything he could about computer numerical control (CNC) machining. He worked his way up to CNC operator, CNC programmer and the shop supervisor. “My true character, who I was meant to be, started showing,” Gilroy told prisoners. “I was the same person, but I was on a positive path, not a negative one.” His success led him to open his own CNC shop, where he landed work from major aerospace manufacturers like SpaceX and Blue Origin. He went on to launch a TV show where he highlights U.S. manufacturing companies and CNC work, and started his own free, educational program for CNC training. He also helped build an advanced machining school at San Quentin Prison in California. “I was uniquely qualified to help those guys,” Gilroy said. “We ended up changing their lives from darkness to light.” Gilroy’s talk was part of a larger event at the Vocational Villages at Parnall and Richard A. Handlon correctional facilities. It included a tour for employers and an opportunity for prisoners to share their resumes and participate in interviews. A total of about 80 employers attended the events at the facilities. The first Vocational Village program opened at Handlon Correctional Facility in 2016, and a second site opened at Parnall Correctional Facility in 2017. The programs offer training in a number of trades including automotive technology, carpentry, CNC machining, robotics, welding, commercial truck driving, forklift operation and plumbing, electrical and concrete/masonry work. The program has a 63 percent employment rate, and since it began, 147 prisoners have graduated. The Jackson Area Manufacturers Association was a key sponsor of Gilroy’s speaking engagements in Michigan along with a number of other area companies. Bill Rayl, president of the Jackson Area Manufacturers Association, said the group wanted to bring Gilroy to Michigan because he is the perfect person to inspire both prisoners and manufacturing apprentices to strive for greatness. Gilroy also challenges employers to look beyond their preconceptions about returning citizens, he said. Ardis Sanders, a prisoner in the CNC program at Handlon Correctional Facility, said he had been looking forward to the opportunity to speak with employers and share his skills. “To actually be able to leave here with a trade and have a better life for myself and my family means so much,” Sanders said. Rayl said the Vocational Village program is a “game changer” for prisoners and employers. “Most of the manufacturers that we work with struggle to fill their skilled trades job openings,” Rayl said. “The Vocational Villages are part of the skills gap solution. Companies smart enough to take advantage of the returning citizen talent pool will gain an edge over their competitors who don’t.”