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Restoring History, Building Houses, and Building a Future

These are exciting times for inmates who truly want to pay back the society they have harmed. Thanks to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services’ Public Safety Works initiatives, inmates all across Maryland are now not only learning skills, but working on truly meaningful projects.

Just this summer alone, inmates are in the midst of building houses for Caroline County Habitat for Humanity on the Eastern Shore; restoring the Piper Orchard at Antietam, the nation’s best-preserved battlefield and scene of America’s bloodiest single-day battle; and lending a hand at Day’s End Farm Horse Rescue, donating baled hay and learning about equine care.

Within 24 hours on July 1 and 2, both Antietam Battlefield and the Habitat for Humanity folks held news events to thank DPSCS for its unique partnerships. Antietam Superintendent John Howard, a veteran of the National Park Service, says he has never seen quite this kind of help from a prison system. And Habitat’s Bill Clemens raved about DPSCS and the work ethic of the inmates.

On July 1, as the National Park Service, DPSCS, and Maryland Correctional Enterprises (MCE) officials hailed the partnership, five inmates pruned and weeded the twelve-acre Piper Orchard, which was trampled by the troops during the nearby Bloody Lane siege and never replanted---until inmates with the Division of Correction’s prison industry unit (MCE) arrived on the scene in 2007.

MCE, historically associated with making furniture, license plates, and uniforms, now has branched out into amazing and truly important business ventures, from planting thousands of trees at Antietam to building oyster spat cages for the bay and growing shoreline-restoring bay grasses.

The next day, July 2, State Senator and Federalsburg Town Manager Rich Colburn hailed DPSCS for what may be the only inmate house-building effort of its kind in the nation. Crews from the Division of Correction’s Eastern Pre-release Unit an hour to the west have been working three days a week on homes for low-income families, which the families pay a mortgage on thanks to Habitat for Humanity.

The inmates have learned all kinds of skills building the five houses, and on July 2, as they neared completion of another house, Habitat broke ground for yet another lot even as a foundation for a soon-to-be-built house was being prepared. That kind of home-building pace would not have been possible without DPSCS’ unique involvement.

DPSCS Secretary Gary Maynard has stressed time and again that Public Safety Works isn’t just about giving inmates jobs and skills; it’s about meaningful projects, paying society back in the restorative justice model that gives inmates and communities alike something truly invaluable. Building houses for the poor and restoring one of the most important pieces of American history…well, that’s about as meaningful as you can get.