North Carolina Department of Correction - Correction News - January 1999

Poteat, Franklin take Marion work program to the next level

MARION — Talk to any government official in the area, and they will tell you – the inmate community work program in McDowell County is better than sliced bread.

In 1998 alone, Marion Minimum Security Unit’s community work program completed 186 projects and logged more than 70,150 hours in McDowell County, saving county taxpayers more than $452,751 in labor costs. Since the program first started in 1995, inmate labor has saved the county more than $1.5 million.

Over the past year, inmates in the program have installed roofs for local fire departments, renovated the county courthouse, library and the Old Fort Police Department, built nature trails, installed carpet and cleaned 100 buses for the county school system.

Marion Superintendent Dean Walker credits Sgt Perry Franklin and
Capt. Johnny Poteat with the success of Marion's community work

"The county makes great use of the community work program," said McDowell County Manager Chuck Abernathy. "The program allows us to do more with less. The renovations to the superior courtroom and the library are projects that we had wanted to do for a number of years and can now do, thanks to the community work program. We really appreciate all the work they do."

While most of the credit for the work goes to the inmates on Marion’s four inmate work crews, the real driving force behind the program’s success is the initiative shown by Capt. Johnny Poteat and Sgt. Perry Franklin to make their program more than one that just picks up trash.

"When the program first started, Sgt. Franklin and I talked and decided that we could either just sit back in the office and wait for people to come to us and spend our days picking up trash, or we could go out and talk to the agencies and let them know what we can do," Poteat said.

Not wanting to do strictly trash detail, the two visited every government agency in the county and explained the type work the inmates are capable of doing – everything from roofing and carpentry work to the complete renovation of buildings. They also talked to various civic groups and prepared a brochure, video and numerous scrap books advertising the program.

"We told all the agencies that we are here, and we have these skills, and we are glad to do the job," Poteat said. "The inmates have all these talents, so we might as well put them to use for the community. While we do pick up trash with DOT, we look at this program as more than picking up trash. We advertised what we can do, and it really paid off."

Franklin said the program’s first big break came when the local school system allowed the inmates to renovate an old department store into an accelerated learning center.

"That really opened the door for us," Franklin said. "Other agencies saw what we did for the school system and said, ‘Wow, these guys really have talent.’"

Franklin said another key to the program’s success is a result of the relationship that he has been able to develop with the local media. He said he discovered early on that it pays to get to know the members of the media and to express thanks when they do write positive stories about the program.

"The local media has supported us 100 percent with positive stories," Franklin said. "We have a great relationship with the media, and this helps us show other agencies what kind of work we can do."

Western Region Director Steve Bailey said he is impressed with the success of the program and credits Poteat and Franklin for making the program what it is today.

"The program could work no matter who is in charge," he said, "but if you put the right people in there who are able to build relationships within the county, it works all the better." u

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