N.C. Department of Correction--Correction News--May 1998

Correctional Officers Help Clean Torando-Ravaged Towns

STONEVILLE — When correctional officers lead squads of prisoners into the community, it gives the public a rare chance to see officers who normally work behind prison fences. When a team of correctional officers led 50 Dan River Prison Work Farm inmates into downtown Stoneville to clean up after a March 20th tornado, their teamwork and leadership helped a town where two people were killed and downtown buildings were destroyed.

"Everybody that we talked to said they were apprehensive at first to have inmates come in," said Sgt. Tom Ashley of Dan River prison. "But once they saw the caliber of work they were doing, how courteous and polite the inmates were, they thought it was great. They say they’re probably a week ahead of where they would be if the inmates had not been here."

After the tornado crashed through town on a Friday afternoon, prison officials received the first request for assistance Sunday. They put an officer in Stoneville’s emergency management command post where people in the community called in their needs.

The officer relayed those requests to Dan River prison sergeants who directed officers leading work squads from site to site completing jobs.

"The people of Stoneville were able to see the prisoners were supervised by very professional, very courteous, very compassionate correctional officers that were concerned about everyone’s safety," said Dan River Prison Superintendent Wayne Moore. "They saw our officers made sure the work was carried out efficiently and expeditiously and in accordance with their requests."

On the first day, the prison sent four work squads to Stoneville. The next day, the numbers increased from 40 to 100. Five squads were sent to Stoneville and five to nearby Mayodan.

"It gave people a chance to see that correctional officers are motivational experts. They know how to get the most out of most of the inmates most of the time," Moore said. "You have to be able to express constructive criticism to a group of people who traditionally do not take criticism well. The inmates are willing to get in there, roll up their sleeves and knock out all kinds of work, if they feel like they’re being treated with respect and if they think their efforts are being appreciated."

In the first days of the cleanup, the work consisted of tacking up plywood and plastic to secure buildings. Then work squads cleaned up schools so they could reopen and cleared spoiled and damaged goods from buildings. By the third day, they were clearing debris from streets and neighborhoods. One Stoneville businessman who owned four of the damaged buildings said it was "the frosting on the cake," a very big help. Another lady spotted a squad clearing a downed tree from her back yard and thanked the officer and prisoners for their help.

"I think once people have been around these squads and our officers, their perceptions change," Sgt. Ashley said. "They see our officers are professionals that closely supervise the inmates, make sure they do the right thing and make sure they complete tasks and do it right."

Through April 6, Dan River squads worked 9,760 hours helping clean up the Rockingham County communities. u

NC DOC Correction News- May 1998
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