April 8, 2017
COTTONWOOD – Wednesday mornings begin early for Jay Hinterlong.
Recently I met him at 7:30 a.m. to head out to Northern Idaho Correctional Institution and pick up two prisoners. The drive consisted of instructions and a review of the day’s plan, and one thought kept playing in my head. Johnny Cash and "Folsom Prison Blues."
Jay’s voice reminded me of Johnny Cash, and he spoke in a relaxed, comforting tone. I also got a sense that Jay was very serious and he wouldn’t tolerate any foolishness. There’s too much at stake for all involved.
I always have a sense of unease around strangers. Not true once I sat in the passenger seat of Jay’s pickup.
Even knowing I was about to spend the next four hours with two, male prison inmates on work release.
Every Wednesday, Jay travels to NICI and picks up two inmates to assist him as he collects recyclables throughout Cottonwood. As Jay says, these inmates are the “cream of the crop.”
Certain requirements must be met before prisoners leave with Jay. But without their assistance, the workload would be burdensome for Jay alone. And volunteers are difficult to come by.
The work begins by loading all NICI’s recyclable materials in the back of Jay’s truck. Cardboard boxes, bags of shredded paper, aluminum, and tin cans all get loaded into the back of his truck.
We then headed back to Cottonwood, country music playing on the radio. For a brief moment, one inmate felt comfortable enough, free enough, to sing along.
The collected materials is then unloaded at the Idaho Recycling Center collection site on North Broadway Street. The group then stops at various businesses in Cottonwood to retrieve recyclable materials. Once everything is collected, which could take a couple of loads, the team returns to IRC to sort.
Labels must be removed from cans. Paper must be sorted. And sometimes trash winds up in the bags and must be sort out and dumped rather than recycled.
It seems monotonous when I see it typed out. It certainly was not the ordinary day for me.
It wasn’t ordinary for the prisoners either.
For one morning, they weren’t confined inside a fenced area or a building. For four hours, the constant distraction of other inmates did not bother them.
For four hours, they were productive citizens assisting a community. They were normal for a moment, whatever normal can be.
As Jay said, “it works out well for a couple of reasons: one, they get my wife’s cooking; and two, they get to leave the facility for a while.”
(Jay’s wife, JoAnn, brings the trio lunch every Wednesday. The Wednesday I rode along she also packed coffee cake and a thermos of coffee. Jay’s not joking when he says his wife cooking is a benefit; best coffee cake I’ve ever had.)
But the prisoners aren’t the only ones reaping a reward.
As Jay said, having assistance gets the work done much quicker. And I should also mention lifting some of the bags requires a certain amount of strength. Jay could manage the work himself, but the help is appreciated.
IRC also benefits from this arrangement. Between August 2016 and January 2017, the Cottonwood IRC site collected 81,753 pounds of recyclables. That’s almost 41 tons of waste kept out of the landfill.
Without the arrangement with the prison, the work would undoubtedly take longer. Less might get collected. More waste might filter into the landfills.
Jay’s volunteer efforts certainly benefit the community. But his interaction with the prisoners undoubtedly prepares them for building positive working relationships once they are released.
Johnny Cash sang in “Folsom Prison Blues,” “I bet I'd move it on a little farther down the line.”
I couldn’t help but think, that’s exactly what Jay is helping these young men learn. How to get a little farther down the line.
Laurie Chapman writes about the people, places and events bringing the prairie to life in the weekly blog, Prairie Pulse. If you have a suggestion, contact Laurie by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 208-983-1200.