The historic building at 58 Broadway which serves as an annex to Jim Thorpe's Dimmick Memorial Library is in the process of a spruce-up by the Friends of the Dimmick Library with "volunteer" help from inmates of the Carbon County Correctional Facility.
During this week, the friends and the volunteers are spackling the ceilings and walls of the Millionaire's Row building. The main floor of the building is currently used for fundraising book sales by the friends, and has recently been used for an Irish music concert. Drawing nearly 40 to the event, the friends realized that if they were going to use the building for future performances, they would need a larger space, and additional space was available on the second floor.
So, Janet Hermann and Judy Gill of the Friends of the Dimmick Library arranged to ask for a CCCF crew to provide the labor. "We have two inmates from the Carbon County Correctional Facility work release doing work for volunteer organizations," Gill explained. "We had them before to do some ceiling repairs. They work very well. They are hard workers. We asked if they could come back again."
"We have two rooms upstairs that we would like to rent out or to use for volunteer groups to have meetings," she continued. "We need to get the rooms into decent shape. Both the rooms and the hallway need repairs to the walls and ceiling. We are hoping to get donated carpet for the floors. The Annex is the property of the Library, however, they have not been able to spend the time or money to maintain it."
"On the main floor, used for book sales and book signings, we were hoping to do some cosmetic work. The ceiling and the room that we use for the fiction books was in very bad shape. Paint and plaster were hanging down-very unsightly. They came and repaired that."
Walter Amey, a member of the CCCF crew, was in the midst of painting what was once used as the second floor bedroom. "I've filled the cracks and put a first coat of eggshell paint over what was a dark brown wall," he said. Amey is a volunteer through the CCCF, not a professional painter, so when asked about his experience, he noted, "I've painted my own house."
Amey volunteers because he enjoys the opportunities offered through the Alternate Work Program. The program helped build a Frisbee golf course in East Penn Township, a skate park in Lansford, and painted at the Lansford and Lehighton pools.
Amey said that he has been at the CCCF for four months and on the work program for three months. "In jail, they treat you fair," he said. "But it's sometimes boring. They have activities. You can go to gym, church, bible studies, victim's awareness class, or anger management."
He volunteers for the program because it offers, "Fresh air, a chance to help the community, and to learn stuff." For instance, although he had often come to Jim Thorpe, he had never been inside the Dimmick Library Annex and didn't know about their used books sales. As a thank you gift, the friends invited Amey to pick out books, and sent three boxes of books back with the crew to the CCCF.
The crew leaves from the CCCF at around 7:30 in the morning and returns about 3 p.m. Correction Officer Terry Hoherchak, who was supervising the crew, said, "One incentive is that volunteers for the work crew earn a reduction in their sentence, eight hours off their sentence for every eight hours of volunteer work."
Supervision by correction officers is also on a volunteer basis. Hoherchak likes it because, in most cases, it's a weekday assignment - as compared to the schedule at the prison that has him working most weekends.
"I like the program," said CCCF Warden Jim Youngkin. "I feel it's been a success. It's been a benefit to us because we are trying to cut population, and if we can get guys out a little earlier, if I can get a guy out a week earlier, it opens up a bed for somebody else."
"We clean up the highways and make a positive difference for the boroughs and the nonprofits."
Youngkin explained that the current program is based on a model in Columbia County. "The key to me was to give something back," he said.
Youngkin, who started as Warden at the CCCF in 2007, said that a similar program had been in effect about four years ago. In that program, an inmate crew was released to a supervisor from the organization. "They weren't concerned about a guy going into a store and sneaking tobacco back into the jail," Youngkin said.
In the current program, a correctional officer provides supervision. "It cuts down on the nonsense that goes with the program," he said."That's been a key for us - not having many infractions or misconducts in the program. We want it to succeed. The best way for us to insure success is having a correction officer in the community with them. I think it also gives the community a little more sense of safety when they see the inmates out in the orange suits that there is an armed officer with them."
Youngkin hopes that these types of programs are successful. "I've been doing this for 25 years and I've seem many, many people come back. I've locked up fathers, sons, grandfathers, brothers and cousins. I hate to see the same people coming back - but I do see a lot."