Two inmates rearranged furniture on the floor, laying out pieces to showcase as many as possible without cluttering walkways.
Their work doesn’t go unnoticed.
It was hard to miss them in their standard orange clothes as they set down a dresser and flashed a smile at a shopper in CentrePeace’s new shop at 3047 Benner Pike. Their work also won’t go unrewarded.
The three men who worked there Monday are some of about 10 in the county’s correctional facility who get to volunteer outside of the jail in a program meant to give them a head start on re-entering the community after their time is served. Warden Rick Smith hopes more can join them.
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“I think it’s very effective, and with the new building our expectations are raised significantly,” Smith said. “It’s good, hard work. With the new building they have most things indoors and on display, which gives them more time for programming and new opportunities for life skills training.”
If Smith has it his way, more inmates will be allowed to volunteer outside of the jail, and he sees CentrePeace as an opportunity for expansion.
“The number of inmates that work outside the jail is really low, so I hope to get those numbers up,” he said. “CentrePeace, with their nice new building, I’d bet they could handle more.”
CentrePeace, which recently opened its new location beside its old one off Benner Pike, has more than twice the space it used to, meaning they no longer have to stack furniture or spend hours every morning and night moving items in and outside.
“It’s night and day,” CentrePeace Executive Director Thomas L. Brewster said. “In terms of training, we spend more valuable time in the shop training how to repair and refinish furniture, and in retail operations sales have increased at least 10 percent.”
Volunteers from the community have taken notice.
“This building is so much bigger and brighter, and people make comments on it and I think take more time to look around,” said volunteer Dianne Kauffman, who works behind a checkout counter. “We’ve seen a lot of new faces, too. Over there we had new faces, too, so don’t get me wrong, but we had more of the same traffic.”
Other volunteers, like Judy Clogg, do more behind the scenes work, opening boxes of donated small items to exhibit on the second floor of the building.
“It’s much more open, shopper-friendly, cleaner and easier to keep clean than what we’ve been used to,” Clogg said. “You can flow so much easier between the toys, the linen and the glassware than you used to. We used to have a space that was so much closer, so much more consuming of you and almost claustrophobic at times.”
Volunteers said they enjoy their tasks of opening, organizing and pricing items.
“The volunteers here are all friends, and the paid people that work here are very appreciative of us,” Clogg said. “The trainees, you know, they’re really why we’re here. We’re here for them and for all the people that come here.”
The trainees, as they are called at CentrePeace, are the inmates who volunteer at the shop.
The hope is that they will be better equipped to re-enter society.
“Recidivism hasn’t changed markedly over the years,” Brewster said. “About two-thirds of individuals will re-offend within three years. They’ll be back in jail, and the reason is we don’t change anything. We just warehouse people for a finite period. If we can provide them with life skills and vocational skills, they will be better prepared for life after jail.”