North Carolina Department of Correction news release

MARCH 27, 1998

Prison Work Squads Clean up after tornado

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY - Everywhere you look in downtown Stoneville, you see the wreckage caused by the March 20th tornado and prisoner work squads cleaning it up.

There are 50 minimum seucrity prisoners in Stoneville and another 50 nearby in Mayodan from the Dan River Prison Work Farm dispatched at the direction of Gov. Jim Hunt.

"When the Governor was here, he said he would get some inmate help here. I didn't know what that meant at the time," said Titus Sparks who owns several Stoneville buildings damaged in the tornado. "Its been a Godsend to have all this labor. These guys are helping with the nitty gritty work."

It's easy to follow the path of destruction from Mayodan down US 220 into Stoneville's downtown where several blocks of buildings are damaged or destroyed. After the first three days of clean up, school reopened and cars were again driving through Stoneville. Prison squads helped remove spoiled food from the school cafeteria and cleared the dining hall. They cleared debris from streets and secured buildings by tacking up plyboard and plastic where windows and doors were broken.

In the clean-up's fourth day, a crew of prisoners worked in a grocery store. They removed all of the products, fixtures and debris. Another crew moved a stack of two-by-fours to a building where the roof is covered by blue tarp. Other inmates cleared debris from the ditch by the railroad track. Surrounded by buildings left in rubble, they grabbed boards, bricks and materials that could be tossed in the back of a dump truck and hauled away for disposal. Other squads of inmates helped clear trees and debris from people's yards.

"This is the first time I've done anything like this," said inmate Frank Dean. "Makes me feel good inside to know I'm helping the community. They tell us around here all the time how much they appreciate our help. That means a lot."

In Mayodan, prisoners cleared debris from a drainage ditch across the street from where the Mayodan United Methodist Church was flattened. Another crew swept streets near the elementary school where the windows were blown out.

"I went to fifth grade in that school. To look at it and see the condition it’s in now…" inmate Keith Hatcher's voice trails off. "I played softball over on this field. My mother and I used to clean the church that's been demolished over here. A lot of things hit home to me."

One lady spotted the squad of prisoners clearing debris from her back yard and piling it by the road. She came out and thanked them. Others offered thanks and waved as they drove down the street.

"When we first came here, it was a mess," said inmate Richard Johnson. "After two days it’s begun looking pretty good. That's by manpower, not machine power, but manpower."

While a week of hard work has made a difference in the Rockingham County communities, there's still much more to be done, and the squads of prisoners closely supervised by correctional officers will continue to help as long as emergency officials see a need.