By Elizabeth White
to an audio version of this
Most of us see them by the highway picking
up trash in orange jump suits. They're inmates from
the Barnstable County Jail out on community service
work crews. In addition to keeping the highways clean,
inmates perform a range of community services, from
painting to carpentry to landscaping.
On a windy November day a six-man work crew from the
Barnstable County jail repairs the dock at Monument
beach in Bourne. The dock was destroyed last winter in
the freak storm of December 9th, whose tidal surge
carried the rotting planks up onto the beach.
22 year old Lee Kelly hammers in a new cross brace to
hold the pilings upright. Kelly's serving one year for
breaking and entering. As he works at the end of the
dock, under the open sky, Kelly says he's grateful for
any chance to get out of the jail.
: "Oh, it's boring. When you're in there's nothing
to do. Days drag. A day feels like a week to me in
there. But when you're out here, weeks fly by like
Sergeant Joe Brait, who supervises the community
service crews, keeps an eye on the inmates from inside
a nearby maintenance building. Brait worked in
construction for over thirty years before joining the
Sheriff's Office. He likes his job because he's able
to teach the inmates valuable works skills.
Sergeant Joe Brait
: "I've had quite a few younger kids that have not
been shown by anybody any trade. I've got two of them
on my crew now, that everyday they thank me for
showing how to paint, how to bang a nail, how to read
a ruler. And they work really hard for me. I don't
give him anything in return, except a chance to get
out of the jail - that's what they look forward to."
And the towns look forward to the free labor. Last
year, according to Dave Neal with the Sheriff's
office, the inmates performed 25,000 hours of free
labor for the municipalities and non-profits of Cape
: "And you multiply that out times the average
laborer making $20 bucks an hour, and you're saving
the communities a tremendous amount of money."
Towns have to buy all the materials and provide lunch
for the inmates, but otherwise the labor comes free of
charge. A savings of roughly $500,000 thousand dollars
a year. Neal says the program is voluntary, but only a
small percentage of prisoners are eligible to work
outside the jail.
: "All these inmates have been evaluated and deemed
to be compliant, that is, they do exactly as they're
told. Sheriff Cummings does not allow any of the
inmates to work outside who have a violent background.
Most of them are in for their third or fourth DUI or
bad check passing, or something like that."
Inmate Brian Patterson for example is serving two and a
half years for a repeat drunk driving offense.
Patterson's been on Sergeant Brait's work crew for
several months now. He says working on the outside
relieves stress and breaks the tedium of prison life.
: "That's why I think it's good to be working,
the program, you don't have idle time, you know what I
mean, to really think about other things. And I know
in other spots in the jail, and you're sitting there
and pondering over things where that's what sometime
stuff happens. You get more you know angry, your
temper, you lose your temper, because you're not as
busy. And the best thing is to stay busy cause just
hanging around is no way to live in there. You just
don't feel like a person because you're not
Patterson says his favorite type of work is new
: "And it's just because, you know, at the end
of the day you can see what you've done. You know, if
you were building something, we start from scratch and
all of a sudden we start to, you know, make something.
Gives you a satisfaction at the end of the day to see
that we've completed something and there's something
to show for it. You know I can come back down here
maybe next summer and I can say to friends that I
helped build this dock, I did something beneficial
while I was incarcerated."
Back on the dock Bourne resident Jay Redman has come
down to check out the progress. Redman lives just up
the street; he's grateful the dock's finally getting
: "This cross bracing will make it hold up
through the winter. With the ice and everything, keep
everything from moving, keep it all tight. And they've
been here all week doing an outstanding job. It's hard
It is hard work, say the inmates. But often the most
difficult part of the day is returning to their cells.
Broadcast December 14, 2006
Elizabeth White reports for the Cape and Islands NPR Stations.