Joseph Barker Jr.RACINE - Joseph Barker Jr. isn't the only former criminal who's ever turned his life around. But if you're looking for a shining example of someone who has, he more than qualifies. For most of his life, Barker could have served as the definition of "unemployable." A troubled, abused child, he joined gangs and became a habitual criminal, going in and out of jail and prison. He fathered three children whose support payments he could not and was not making. Barker talks about all of that now. He knows it's in his past.

Instead of hanging out on the streets and living the gang life, he gets up before the birds to start work at 6 a.m. at his construction job, six days a week. That job happens to be the $2.15 billion We Energies power plant expansion in Oak Creek. In talking to Barker, it's plain that he revels in his current life and line of work. He proudly shows a certificate proclaiming him Labor Apprentice of the Year for 2007 in the Laborer Craft trade.

"I'll tell you how good a worker he is," said David Cummings, a supervisor for Bechtel Construction on the We Energies job site. "If he's waiting on the elevator, he's got a broom in his hands, and he's sweeping up till the elevator gets there."

"He tries very hard; he's very proud of what he's done," continued Cummings, lead general foreman over scaffolding. "The guy has really turned his life around - and we're proud of what he's done. And I don't believe he'll go back to the other life." But a mental transformation doesn't magically bestow work skills. Where does a new attitude take a high school dropout who eaves prison with a seventh-grade reading level? The elements that took Barker to journeyman laborer were his new outlook, his determination and the First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship Program. He became the program's first graduate to complete an apprenticeship and become a journeyman.

(Michael Burke Journal Times Saturday, March 29, 2008)

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