Free Labor

Inmate labor from nearby prison helps spruce up La Grange, Ky.

The inmates come from Kentucky State Reformatory

LA GRANGE, Ky. (March 2019) – Certain sites in La Grange, Ky., have gotten a facelift due to inmates of the Kentucky State Reformatory. While under the supervision of former wardens, these inmates have made significant contributions to enhance the community’s overall appearance, while learning valuable skills.
“The Kentucky Department of Corrections has always had a program allowing minimum and community custody inmates to work in the local community,” said former KSR Warden Larry Chandler. “It has generally been called a Community Service program. In the past, these inmates typically did janitorial duties, cut grass or picked up trash.”

Photo by Helen McKinney

The Dahlgren Pioneer Barn on the campus of the Oldham County History Center is among the sites receiving cleanup work from prison inmates.

Chandler also sits on the Board of Directors for the Oldham Country History Center and in 2017-2018 he and former Roederer Correctional Complex Warden James Sweatt oversaw several renovation projects on the History Center campus. Both volunteered to supervise inmates who painted the Rob Morris Educational Building, a facility used for programs and events.
“He and I met with the warden at Roederer Correctional Complex, Ravonne Simms,” said Chandler. “She agreed to assign five inmates to us and agreed to transport them to the History Center every day. She also allowed us to borrow scaffolding for the duration of the job.”
This inmate crew painted and repaired the interior of the Rob Morris Educational Building, a former Presbyterian church which dates to 1880. “When we finished that project, Warden Simms was gracious enough to extend the program to allow us to repair, scrape, seal, prime and paint the outside of the building. Our crew became known at RCC as the La Grange History Center Crew.”
During this time, “Warden Simms terminated another program using inmates at various locations supervised by the Oldham County staff and asked if we would like to have a detail assigned to us permanently. We, of course, said absolutely.” The inmate crew consisted of three to five men for the various jobs.
The crew’s next job involved scraping, sealing, repairing and painting the exterior of the J.C. Barnett Library & Archives Building at the History Center. In addition, they added about 1,000 linear feet of shelving in the Archives and Rob Morris buildings to store artifacts and archives.
They also stripped the concrete porch of the Peyton Samuel Head Family Museum, repaired and painted the fence adjacent to the parking lot, and did some light landscaping. For their next job, the crew was asked by the City to repair and stain the gazebo on the courthouse lawn and aid county workers with landscaping at the courthouse.
The crew assisted the History Center again in the building of the Dahlgren Pioneer Barn, a barn used for demonstrations and programs. Barn builder Barrett Sherrill, History Center Board Chair Bob Martin and board member Jim Zimmerman took part in volunteer training that was required of anyone who supervised inmates in the community.

Photo by Bob Widman

This train dining car at the La Grange Train Depot was among the train cars painted by the prison inmates last year.

Terri Miller, chair of a renovation campaign the History Center has been undergoing for the last few years, said the History Center saved a lot of money by using the inmate labor, “but this was not the only reason we chose them for the jobs.”
She said the History Center wanted to “engage with the prison system and community and make use of their employment services. The inmates did as good a job as anyone else that could have been used. We were very pleased with their quality of work.”
Chandler said the crew’s next project began in April 2018 when Karen Eldridge, executive director of La  Grange Kentucky Main Street, asked them if they would be willing to paint the rail cars at the La Grange Historical Train Museum. For this project, Chandler requested some guidance from Cornell Woosley, the Vocational Education Auto Body instructor at KSR.
“The final product surpasses anything I could have imaged; they are beautiful and a huge asset. They are also now protected and will stay in better shape,” said Eldridge of the train cars.
“Through the work of these dedicated wardens, the inmates are getting life skills that will aid them after they are paroled,” she said. “They also get to leave the community a better place, which I hope gives them pride and self confidence. Their mentors on the projects help them see the value they have to their community and to themselves.”
Bob Widman, a member of the Ohio Valley Historical Railroad Foundation that operates the railroad museum in the former railroad depot, said the inmates “made repairs on the train cars, and sanded, scraped and painted them from May through the second week of October.” This was a labor intensive job and took some time and commitment to complete from supervisors and inmates who were not paid for their services.
He said the foundation was very pleased with the results, and the inmate crew was overseen by Chandler and Woosley. Widman said that Woosley “showed them what had to be done and did a lot of the bodywork himself.”
Widman said that Sherwin Williams donated 50 percent off of their industrial paint for the job. Local artist Dave Clute “painted the face of Ernest the Engine for free.”
Eldridge said, “Main Street, along with the Ohio Valley Historical Railroad Foundation, has gotten work completed that would have been cost prohibitive without inmate help. The final product is something the whole community can be proud of and enjoy.”
Tax payers saved money as well by the use of this inmate labor. Eldridge estimated that $254,604.58 was saved between the city, county, History Center and Railroad Museum. The entities requiring work paid for basic material costs, and saved on labor expenses while getting quality work.
Chandler said the crew’s final project in 2018 was the demolition of the interior walls of the old Methodist Church next to the Fiscal Court building to open it up for meeting space and similar venues.
Over a two-year period, “we used about 30 inmates total. Some inmates were paroled while working with us, some were admitted to various programs that were full time and some were transferred to Community Service facilities,” Chandler said.
The inmates reaped many benefits as the program progressed, said Chandler. This included an opportunity to work and learn with professionals; they were re-acquainted with a strict work regimen; due to the public exposure where the projects were located, they were expected to be respectful and courteous; they were coached by the wardens continuously on what they needed to do once released; and at the end of every project, the leader of the organization we worked for wrote a letter of endorsement for their hard work. One letter was placed in their institutional file and one given to them for use as a reference.

In addition to what the inmates received, “our goal was to assist and improve non-profit organizations and government agencies complete projects in the community at a reduced cost,” he said. As for 2019, “La Grange Mayor John Black has indicated that he has a couple of projects he would like to accomplish.”

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