Convicts are given a new lease on life - as deep-sea divers

WEEKLY WORLD NEWS

February 24, 1981

Convicts are being taken out of their barred cells and given a chance at a better life - as deep-sea divers.

And the elite few who survive the grueling 10 - month training reenter society as highly skilled underwater experts who can earn as much as $100,000 a year.

"It's a great profession and they are making far more money than they did when they were pulling stickups or bank robberies," Chief Diving Instructor Bob Schelke told The NEWS.

Schelke has spearheaded the amazing program since its beginning 10 years ago at the California Institution for Men at Chino. He proudly boasts that it has the lowest re-arrest rate of any other program in the nation.

"The average rate of re-arrests is 50 to 60 percent for second-timers in California," Schelke added. "we have a rate of only 5 percent."

Schelke said that only the "cream" of the prison crop - convicts with no more than two years remaining on the sentences - are selected for training. The average number starting the first week is about 80.

"During that first week, we put the men through the basic requirements," he explained.

"They must do 50 push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups, run a mile in under nine minutes, swim 50 yards underwater and swim four laps with a 10 - pound weight.

"That's when we get our first dropouts. If we end up with 30 candidates, we're very happy."

Convicts with "attitude problems" are weeded out early.

Fighting among themselves, arguing with the staff or the slightest dalliance with drugs are grounds for dismissal.

By the end of the rigorous demanding course, only half the original 50 will "graduate."

The course begins in May with top-grade instruction in diving technique, underwater welding, carpentry, photography, pipe fitting, rigging and salvage. The men also learn about electronics, explosives safety and oil technology.

"All the graduates have job interviews before they leave prison," Schelke told The NEWS. "Every year I have more job offers than I can fill."

And once they complete the course, the ex-cons prove to be top-notch divers and highly regarded employees,

"They've never been a problem," declared Bud Mills, diving chief for Sante Fe Diving Co., in Homer, La. "The ones I've hired show a lot of initiative. They really want to do it."

Tom Conner, operations director for Oceaneering International in Morgan City, La., has even higher praise:

"The people from Chino are some of the hardest workers you'll find." he declared. "We've hired 15 and we have no qualms about hiring more."

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Comment by shawn kieffer on April 14, 2010 at 9:03pm
Dam Barone you never f***** up????? Tax payers pay for everything........duh,,, this is the USA......illigitiment kids, food stamps for drugs program, we pay for some sorry lazy ass to stay at home on the front porch smokin crack.........at least we get somethin out of this bill.
Comment by Ethan on March 13, 2010 at 4:59pm
For one yes they f***** up but would you rather them keep f****** up robbing the people in there communitys or you want to give them a second chance at life and the program looks like a success 5 percent going back hell in the long run it will save us money and ive had more so called honest people steal from me than the one's you dont trust
Comment by Barone on March 7, 2010 at 12:13pm
That is just b******* they f***** up in life and now we make em divers ya way to go so when your hat liner is gone or your can of chew and oh ya what if you get a job where there is back ground checks ya that will go good or you get a job over seas and you need a passport hahaha. I also like the fact who pays for there dive school us the f****** tax payers oh that is nice I pay for my own school and they f*** up and we all pay for there school wow that sure dose send a good message to the young ones oh ya we can just f*** up in life and we will come out just fine ya. way to go Bob Schelke make divers look bad! Need a good kick in the ass

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