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Tree-climbing program helps inmate with life after prison

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BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- SCI Rockview is situated at the foot of Mount Nittany. One day most of these inmates are going home and one of the hardest things to do is find a job -- but the arborist training program is changing that.

An inmate, Michael, said, "Being in prison is the furthest thing in your mind when you're up in the tree learning this kind of stuff."

Inmates climbing trees -- tying knots -- and learning about arbor culture.

"This is the basic arbor culture, so any guys who are interested in becoming an arborist ... these skills are great to have,” said Shea Zwerver, community engagement coordinator.

In a first-ever partnership, inmates are working toward their tree-climbing and arborist certificates.

"It's a great opportunity," said Devin, an SCI Rockview inmate.

Students in the class say the hands-on part is the most critical.

"You definitely wouldn't get the skills or training from a book or a classroom. It's one of those deals where you've got to get up in the tree," said Anthony.

A skill that organizers say is in high demand.

James Savage, a Penn State arbor culture instructor, said, "These guys with the skills we're teaching them in arbor culture with the climbing and the basic knowledge, there's a huge demand."

"It's reassuring. People coming out of prison often times have a very hard time ... finding employment and have a skill like this is just one more tool to being successful," said Michael.

Organizers say there's two things coming out of this program:

"It helps to train inmates but it also helps us from a management aspect to be able to take care of a lot of the pruning work and tree removal work that we have on our institution," said one of the participants.

"It's awesome to have an opportunity to do stuff like this, and potentially start a career for myself,” said another participant.

There's one more hands-on class Friday. Organizers say they've already started planning for another session in October.

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