Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Elbow grease provided by inmates from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice – Institution Division has allowed the city to beautify an old cemetery and a local lake without even having to dig in its pocket.
Since Oct. 8, five-man volunteer crews from the Jerry H. Hodge and Skyview criminal justice facilities in Rusk have cleared and burned piles of brush around the Lake Jacksonville Dam and trimmed trees at the Old City Cemetery on Kickapoo Street.
While the city has maintenance crews who work on various projects throughout Jacksonville, “this was work outside our normal schedule,” Public Works Director Will Cole said. “We would have had to take a number of men off scheduled projects to do these jobs, but instead, we can use this labor.”
Beck Durant, a correctional officer at the Rusk facilities helping oversee the projects, said community service work crews come out at the request of city and county agencies, local organizations and the Texas Department of Transportation to volunteer labor.
These community work squads are approved to work outside the facility, with men classified as “outside trustys,” said Beth Morris, Chief of Classification at the Skyview-Hodge units.
“For a long time we sent crews only to Rusk, New Summerfield and Alto, but in the last few years, we've been coming more to Jacksonville,” Durant said.
His fellow correctional officer Billy McCutcheon said crews work a 40-hour, four-day work week, with the length of the contract the only varying factors, “depending how long the volunteers are needed.”
This year, crews painted walls and erected a chain-link fence for New Summerfield schools and helped stabilize the exterior wall of a building in downtown Alto earmarked for an art project.
“They were great,” said Kathi Davis, Alto Economic Development Co. administrative assistant. “It took them about a week, because the crew was really quick. The wall has been crumbling and deteriorating for a while, and the men completely restored the area where an old mural was painted.”
The EDC's board of directors are considering a new, “more eye-popping” mural on the 75- by 13-foot wall, she added.
Volunteers usually enjoy working on the service detail, “I guess because it gets them outside,” McCutcheon said. “They'll do whatever jobs that need to be done.”
Cole called the program, launched in the 1990s, “a big benefit to us, and we're absolutely satisfied with the work the men have done.”
“I think it's a great benefit to the city, and we plan to continue to utilize their help as often as we can. There's a big demand for this help, but we hope to get back in Jacksonville soon,” he said.