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Inmates at West Virginia Northern Regional Jail Corrections Center Build Flag Boxes for Families of Vetereans

Photos Provided An inmate at the West Virginia Northern Regional Jail learns woodworking skills in the jail’s shelter workshop.

WHEELING — The box containing a deceased veteran’s flag means a lot to surviving family members, and perhaps just as much to the jail inmate who crafted it.

Inmates at the West Virginia Northern Regional Jail Corrections Center have the opportunity to learn woodworking skills while in prison, and are gaining experience in the cabinet-making shop there.

Their efforts are put toward building tables and cabinetry, and even creating scrabble games and wooden plaques. But the flag boxes they construct for the Moundsville Honor Guard and the families of veterans they serve have a special meaning for many of the inmates.

“My dad was a veteran, and many of us were veterans,” said the shop’s foreman, an inmate who has served at the NRJCC for six years. “But it’s a double-edged sword. It’s nice for everyone here and the veteran’s families, but another veteran has died.

“Hopefully, it helps the family. And I hope everybody enjoys it.”

Jail officials requested inmates not be identified by name for this article.

The foreman said what he most gets out of the experience of working with fellow inmates in the woodshop is “helping people learn.”

“It also gives me peace of mind,” he said. “I can get out of the chaos over there (in the main part of the jail) for a while.”

Greg Bayes, carpentry instructor at NRJCC, said eight to 10 inmates work in the cabinet shop at a time for two to three hour blocks. Some come everyday, while others get three classes a week.

“A few are in the process of entering the (carpenter’s) union,” he said. “Even if they are not in the carpentry trades, they go into related trades. The skills apply.”

And many inmates don’t have skills when they come to NRJCC, or even know how to function in a working environment, according to Mark Hedrick, who serves as principal overseeing education programs at the NRJCC.

The sheltered workshop at the jail comes under the jurisdiction of the West Virginia Department of Education, and is subject to the same “simulated workplace” standards and guidelines required for programs in public schools.

“But unlike in high schools, our people don’t just graduate and leave,” Hedrick said. “Many have never worked, or worked at a meaningful job. They don’t know the meaning of showing up on time, or being a member of the team. They don’t know about putting the goals of the group ahead of the individual.

“That’s what the simulated workplace does for them.”

He estimates 95 percent of the inmates will leave the prison and re-enter society.

“They will be your neighbors and living in your community,” Hedrick said. “Would society rather have them with skills and gainfully employed, or back on the streets with no skills?”

The later case often leads to recidivism and a return to prison, he explained.

The Moundsville Honor Guard, meanwhile, provides donations to purchase the wood for the program so inmates continue to make the flag boxes.

“Nothing is more important than taking care of our veterans and families,” said honor guard member Phillip Cameron. “Their faces just light up when they are given the box.”

Wheeling native Betsy Jividen, state commissioner of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said opportunity to give back to the community has its own value to the inmates.

“The opportunity for these men to come together in the spirit of honoring our veterans and their families provides them with the invaluable experience of giving back and helping others,” she said. “The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is so proud to be involved in this ongoing project, and we are likewise so grateful for our partners in the Department of Education, who through programs such as this one, play an important role in helping to change the lives of the men, women and juveniles in our care.”

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