With sunglasses and gloves on, Eric Long revved up a weed trimmer and began clipping grass at the edge of a ditch at the Jackson County Jail.
The 37-year-old is not an employee of a local mowing or landscaping company, but an inmate at the jail.
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He got the opportunity to clean the jail as part of a new initiative Sheriff Rick Meyer has started where inmates help spruce up different areas in the community.
They’ve recently helped at Red Sky Rescue in Medora and Hickory Hills Golf Club, the Jackson County History Center and Jackson County Courthouse, all in Brownstown.
Meyer has posted images of the inmates working at various locations on his official Facebook page with many users sharing positive feedback.
Jail staff members usually help select who is eligible to go do the work. Meyer said the correctional officers spend the most time with the inmates, so they know who may be the best fit.
Inmates always work under the supervision of either correctional officers or deputies. Sometimes, they’re even accompanied by the sheriff.
“I’ve had to go out there with them before for work, and I don’t mind,” Meyer said. “These guys work their butts off, and I’ve found they’re really appreciative of being able to do the work.”
Long is one of those who appreciates being able to be out in the sun for a couple of hours rather than in a pod at the jail. He has been at the jail for about three months on an auto theft charge and hopes he will get a plea offer soon.
“I like helping at the jail and helped pick up stuff at the golf course,” he said. “I’d say this is a real blessing and a good thing that’s going on.”
Long said he helped mow the courthouse laws and carried out old paper files that needed to be shredded. He also helps mow and trim each week.
As he works and helps the community, Long said it helps him cope with a difficult time in his life.
“It’s therapeutic and gets you back into the feeling of work,” he said. “I love yardwork to begin with because it’s relaxing.”
The golf course offers its property to the sheriff’s department each year for its annual Easter egg hunt, so cleaning the property was an extension of gratitude, Meyer said.
“That was our way of saying thank you,” he said. “If we spend four or five hours on the golf course, that could be a lot of money out of the golf course’s pocket.”
Meyer said he enjoys seeing the inmates working and making improvements. They’re also thankful for the opportunity and have told him that as they work.
“When you see them doing the yardwork, they’ll stop and wave or come up to you and thank you for letting them do it,” he said. “It shows them they can do a job with responsibilities and we do trust them with it.”
Meyer has spoken with local organizations and even local governments to help lend a hand if inmates can do the job. The public also can give suggestions, and the department has received some to help along some county roads.
“We’ll try to help if people let us know,” he said. “We can do it as we have time.”