By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News
McMillan Park is alive with activity as animals arrive, 4-H students unveil their projects and competitions ensue at the Henry County Fair.
Behind the scenes, a select few inmates from the Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility are to thank for a smooth start to the week, putting in several hours of hard labor to prepare the fairgrounds on Tuesday, July 17.
This is the second year men from the prison have assisted in set up and tear down of the fair. Last year, it went so well that two men have been asked to assist on the fairgrounds Thursday and Friday this week, helping with the animals, keeping the bathrooms clean and picking up trash.
?It?s an extension of giving back to our own community because we don?t have the opportunity to give back to our communities right now,? said Zachary Youngblut, who is an inmate at the Correctional Facility.
The inmates hired for these projects are minimum security offenders, not a flight risk and do not have a history of violence. The eight men hired to work on the fairgrounds this week are all six months to a year from being released from prison.
Working outside of the prison, whether on the fairgrounds or lawn care in Central Park, makes the time move a little faster. Youngblut looks at these jobs as opportunities to be a functioning member of society and do something productive that will eventually help him get where he wants to go.
?For those of us on this crew, we?re taking all those opportunities and making the best of them,? Youngblut said.
It?s a privilege as well. Youngblut said it?s something they have to continually earn and be on their best behavior because only a small percentage of the incarcerated individuals are able to be in the community working.
?It?s kind of taking a chance to let us do some work,? Youngblut said. ?Obviously, we?re people who have made mistakes. If we do things that are going to reflect poorly on the prison, these jobs will be taken away from us. People in the future who deserve this opportunity wouldn?t be able to have it.?
For other inmates like Michael Plieu, he considers how the work will reflect on his chance for parole.
Inmate Ryan Bailey just wants to be as helpful as possible.
The men also find they are treated well on the fairgrounds. They are fed well, given plenty to drink and overall feel very appreciated.
Although inmate James Williams said people driving through McMillan Park while the men are working may not stop and hear their stories, he doesn?t feel judged on the fairgrounds working side by side with members of the Fair Board.
?This is a great group of guys,? Williams said about the men he worked next to. ?It?s great for the prison and for the community.?
Additionally, even though they don?t get to participate in actual fair activities, Youngblut and Williams say the setup and cleanup is what is exciting for them.
When inmates helped with the fair last year, Correctional Facility Executive Officer Andrea Wright worried about the backlash from mixing inmates with 4-H students. Instead, she received many positive comments from community members.
?These guys have been awesome all day, and this is not an easy job,? Wright said. ?We don?t have problems. I can?t remember the last time we had problems.?
As for members of the Fair Board, they are extremely grateful for the contribution of the inmates, who they say are efficient and focused workers.
?It reduces our work time,? Ralph Sandeen said.
?It?s wonderful. They do great work efficiently. It cuts down on what we have to do,? Alicia Yocum said. ?No problems or complaints.?
?We enjoy every minute out there we can get,? Youngblut said.