(Lorri Sughroue/McCook Daily Gazette)
A new program that combines trust and hard work has started its second round at the Nebraska Department of Corrections Work Ethic Camp at McCook, according to Administrative Sergeant Mike Towery, program supervisor.
Implemented Oct. 1, the Trust Program pairs offenders who are in their final phase at the WEC program, to minimally supervised work detail in various city departments. Three to four days a week, from 8 a.m., to 3 p.m., offenders work along side other city employees or on their own. Although a corporeal checks up on them several times during the day, the majority of their time is spent working unsupervised.
"Some offenders think, 'What can I do to get on this program?'" Towery said, "and others just don't get it."
City departments involved with the program have been the water and parks departments and the Humane Society.
As offenders are a month away from their WEC release, this new process is designed to get them out into the community, to work independently, and to learn the value of trust, Towery said.
Certain criteria must be met before offenders are allowed in this program, he said, such as how hard they worked on their road crew, how they treat other offenders and relate to their supervisors, and what their behavior is like back at the camp. Twelve offenders so far are participating in or have completed the program.
"This is a complete program," Towery stressed, with no major violations tolerated either at the work site or at camp. An offender will be pulled from the program if write-ups continue, he said.
Offenders at the WEC are put on a strict schedule which begins each morning at 5 a.m. with exercise. Classroom instruction takes up much of their day, as well as GED classes if needed, alcohol and drug education programs, and behavior modification.
"The WEC program is not for everybody," Towery said. Some offenders would rather do "easy time" at the penitentiary, he said, that doesn't demand any change, and where television and candy are allowed. Television and radio, as well as soda, snack food, cigarettes and anything containing caffeine are forbidden at the WEC. Censored newspapers from Omaha and Lincoln are allowed, but not local papers, Towery said, as offenders "don't need to know who lives on what street."
Although it may seem easier for some to go to the penitentiary, The WEC looks better on job application, Towery said, which is how Jesse Dutcher looks it.
'The Work Ethic Camp is not a warehouse program - this is a program to make a difference," said Dutcher, McCook Utilities Director. Now working with his second offender at the water department, Dutcher allows the offenders to work as assistants to his maintenance crew.
"It's a two-way street," Dutcher said. " They get job experience and we get labor."
The offenders, who work like regular employees, can use this on-the-job training as a work reference after their release from the WEC. And the fact they can listen to a radio while at work is a treat to them, he said.
"The WEC teaches them to appreciate the simple things," he said.
Another aspect of the Trust program is that it models behavior to the offenders about the Midwestern work ethic, Dutcher said.
"People in this area, they work hard," he said. "The offenders see people who come to work even when their back hurts."
"Although Dutcher is optimistic about the program, he anticipates some "rough spots" ahead.
"There may be a couple (of offenders) who mess up," he said. "It's too early to tell right now."
Towery, who also coordinates the road crews in towns throughout Southwest Nebraska, said he is "booked up" for November, and anticipates more offenders in the Trust program in the future.