Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Inmates in orange help raise Habitat

Citizen Staff Writer

Volunteers come and go at Habitat for Humanity. They may not want to work when it’s too hot or too cold outside. They may have families and other obligations that limit how much time they can give.

But one set of Habitat Tucson workers is consistently reliable. It’s the women in orange that you’ll see on almost every Habitat work site at some point during construction.

“We rely on volunteers for sure. But these women will come out when it is superhot. They will come out when it is raining. They are there. They are our backbone.” said Barbara Brown, community development director for Habitat for Humanity. “We couldn’t do it without them, because for each house it takes 2,200 hours of volunteer labor beyond our staff people. So, we need these ladies.”

Just last week, an Arizona Department of Corrections crew put the finishing touches on a house on South Park Avenue for Darlene Brent, her three children and three foster children. The crew members were present and beaming during a dedication ceremony as Brent, a teacher’s aide, cut the ribbon over the door of her first home.

I was unaware of the prisoners’ longtime contribution, probably like many others in this community, until recently, when it was brought to my attention by a co-worker who drove past the Brent home on the way to work for weeks and wondered why prisoners were on a construction crew.

The partnership between ADOC and Habitat for Humanity started in 2001 at the South Wilmot Road facility, Brown said. On the prison grounds, inmates would build a house to about 60 percent completion. The house would then be moved to the foundation at its permanent site and completed by Habitat staff and volunteers.

About five or six years ago, Brown said, the program changed to a work-release program using only female inmates from the Southern Arizona Correctional Release Center, 1275 W. Starr Pass Blvd.

Every Monday, the women take a half-day construction technology class provided by Pima Community College at the prison. Their coursework and training covers all aspects of construction, from roofing and electrical to carpentry and plumbing.

Those who complete the year-long PCC program can earn a certificate for direct employment in construction technology, qualifying them for entry-level construction jobs once they get out of prison.

On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, the women hone their skills at a Habitat for Humanity construction site.They are paid 35 cents to 50 cents an hour for their work. The program provides Habitat with two 12-person crews.

“They are excellent students,” said Michael Treacy, PCC’s advanced program manager for prison education. “To be picked to work with the Habitat crew is an honor for them and they are very motivated to stay on their crew.”

Brown said over the years Habitat for Humanity has hired four women from the program after their release.

Among them is Joann Bon, 47, who was part of crew from June 2007 to March 2008 while serving time on drug charges. After her release from prison in May, she was hired as a cashier for the HabiStores.

Being on the crew taught her how to work well with other people, Bon said. She was happy to be a part of something bigger than herself.

“From my point of view, I tried to build properly and do it right, knowing that these people would appreciate it,” she said.

Bon said she’s now considering putting in an application for a Habitat for Humanity home.

“I would be proud to own a Habitat for Humanity home,” she said.

Wouldn’t that be a fitting example of how the cycle of doing good for others always comes full-circle?

Anne T. Denogean can be reached at 573-4582 and adenogean@tucsoncitizen.com. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767.


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