How Teaching Ex-Cons How To Lay Brick Can Help Rebuild Lives


Pittsburgh native Jeff Jackson, 28, says bricklaying at the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh centers him. “Whatever I’m going through in my day and week, it all goes into these bricks. When I leave here, I’m a better man.” MEGAN HARRIS / 90.5 WESA

Seven or eight years ago, Stephen Shelton started worrying about the future.

It wasn’t just his own Pittsburgh-based construction company, but his entire industry. 

Shelton had spent decades working in various trades — often as an electrician and brickmason — but as he looked around at fellow craftsmen, he realized many were getting old. Where was the next generation?This story is part of Essential Pittsburgh, an ongoing series exploring how Pittsburgh lives, and how it’s evolving.

It annoyed Shelton that high schools had ditched their trade programs. He hadn’t loved traditional schoolwork and had always been drawn to the wood and metal shops.

And Pittsburgh, where he lived, was a city built by tradesmen.

“You look at some of these cathedrals and these stone buildings and think, ‘Everything in this city’s made of masonry,’” said Shelton, sitting in his third floor office in the old Westinghouse building in Homewood.

“Back in the day when all of these buildings were brand new, these were the dudes that came over, they came over from Italy, from Poland, from Ireland. Those guys carried themselves with dignity. They were proud of being a tradesman.”