It's a frame-up: But these inmates aren't complaining as they build homes for Habitat for Humanity
By RON INGRAM - H&R Staff Writer
TAYLORVILLE - Habitat for Humanity programs throughout Illinois are benefiting from a training program for inmates at the minimum-security Taylorville Correctional Center.
Taylorville Inmates Building Houses
Eighteen inmates in each training class spend about nine months learning housing construction techniques by building components for Habitat houses, putting them together to make sure they fit properly and then disassembling the homes so they can be loaded on a flatbed trailer and shipped.
The class recently completed the 106th house built at the prison since the program began in 1999, an 1,100-square-foot structure with 2-by-6-inch exterior wall studs so the house can be heavily insulated and energy efficient.
The program is a partnership among Building Homes: Rebuilding Lives, a program of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois; Habitat for Humanity; the Illinois Department of Corrections; and the department's School District 428, which contracts with Lake Land College in Mattoon for an instructor.
The program fits well with the Taylorville Correctional Center's mission, said Roger Walker Jr. of Decatur, director of the Illinois Department of Corrections.
"Its mission is to prepare inmates for their eventual release and for positive and successful lives by helping them develop teamwork, self-discipline, self-esteem and self-worth as individuals," Walker said. "Programs such as this one are important factors in positive learning and rehabilitation."
Jane Otte, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois executive director, said the program offers inmates the opportunity to give back to the community.
Inmate Paul Piecuch measure to pr cut a piece of top plate for a wall on a framed house that inmates built at the Taylorville Correctional Center for Habitat for Humanity.
"In the process, inmates gain valuable trade skills and a sense of self-worth," Otte said. "They see themselves as partners in a community building effort and as part of an international Christian housing movement."
Building Homes: Rebuilding Lives is a statewide collaboration that last year involved 14 prisons statewide, Otte said.
David Sharp has been the program instructor for the past four years.
Inmates have to pass a college entrance exam of sorts by taking the Test of Adult Basic Education and achieving at least a score of 8 out of a possible 12, Sharp said. Inmates also must complete a mathematics program to get their certificate signifying they finished the course, he said.
"I've been a builder for 30 years," Sharp said. "The value of this program is our hands-on process. You can learn construction techniques out of a manual, but when it comes to building strong walls and a square house, you need hands-on experience."
The 1,100-square-foot house just completed took five men three days to construct, Sharp said. But if push came to shove, one of his crews could complete a house in one day, he said.
Between March 28 and July 14, the Taylorville class completed 16 homes and would like to have more to do, Sharp said.
"A Habitat affiliate sends us a preliminary drawing or a detailed design," Sharp said. "We sit down with a computer-assisted design program and redraw it to get exact specifications. The guys make a parts list and order the material. It's delivered, and we cut and assemble the house."
While most of the structures have been erected in Illinois, a few have gone to Missouri around St. Louis, a few were sent to Texas when the program first started and one was sent to Shreveport, La., last year for a family displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
With up to 300,000 new homes needed in the wake of last year's Gulf Coast hurricanes, Illinois correctional centers could help meet those needs, Sharp said. The state would like to expand the number of construction classes, he said.
"I'm learning a lot," said Gerald Urban, 40, from Grundy County, one of the current class of inmates at the Taylorville prison. "This is helping a lot of families. We've met three families who came here to pick up their houses. They're appreciative of what we are doing for them."
Urban said he was a chemical operator prior to getting into the prison system.
"Most of the time I worked indoors on a computer," Urban said. "This is harder work. When I get out, I'd like to hook up with a local Habitat group and volunteer if I don't actually go into construction. I've done this kind of work before, but not to this level."
Inmate Paul Piecuch, 45, from Elk Grove Village said working on the houses is like having a real job.
"You have to deal with the elements: the rain, the heat and the bugs," Piecuch said. "We work six or seven hours a day, and you have to do that in the real world."
Piecuch said he worked construction part time and was a press operator full time "on the outside." He said he enjoys the class and meeting some of the people whose homes he is helping to build, which included one man in the military who was about to be shipped to Iraq.
"People who don't enjoy the class drop it right away," Piecuch said.
Sharp said there is a waiting list to get into the class, and inmates rarely drop out.
"But when they do, it's because the work is too hard," he said.http://www.herald-review.com/articles/2006/07/20/news/local_news/1016510.txt