State prisoners help clear downed trees

Published 10:07 am Saturday, September 3, 2011

Inmates with the Virginia Department of Corrections help load up part of tree that fell at Morning Star Baptist Church in Capron. -- SUBMITTED

CAPRON—No power and an oak tree blocking the front door kept Virginia Smith from attending last Sunday’s service at Morning Star Baptist Church.

The 83-year-old won’t miss worship this Sunday. Power has been restored. And inmates with the Virginia Department of Corrections cleared the way to the Capron church door.

“The state (prison) farm cut it up beautifully,” said Smith, a 75-year church member and chairwoman for the board of trustees, who can count the times services were canceled in her lifetime.

More than 50 inmates from Deerfield Men’s Work Center and Southampton Detention Center in Capron helped with cutting and removing trees knocked down from Hurricane Irene on Aug. 27. Inmates from state facilities in Greensville and Hanover also helped in the area.

Prisoners removed trees from churches and for power companies to make repairs. They also delivered water to fire departments, said Beth Cabell, assistant warden for Deerfield Men’s Work Center.

One day after the storm, Cabell’s crew of seven minimum-security prisoners began working under supervision in Courtland, Waverly, Drewryville and Capron.

“They worked every day this week and will be doing so as long as needed,” Cabell said Friday. “They’ve done a super job. We are really proud of the work they have done.”

Chainsaw crews also helped clear Old Belfield, Three Creeks, Rivers Mill, Carys Bridge and Buckhorn Quarter roads and Indian Woods Trail in Southampton County. They will be working on Pine Level Road.

David Everett, operations director for the Department of Corrections Eastern Region, said some inmates are trained to operate chainsaws for working on the Capron prison’s 2,600-acre farm.

“My crew works on the farm every day,” Cabell said. “Their job on a normal day is the sawmill on the farm. They are trained in the use of chainsaws.”

“We had all of these trees down and power companies couldn’t get through,” Everett added.

The inmates are paid, but Cabell did not say how much.

“They do work for a minimum amount of money to help pay for basic hygiene and some commissary items,” she said. “These guys have worked really long hours.”