Extension offers inmates lessons for future jobs

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> By Linda Breazeale
> MSU Ag Communications
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> HOUSTON, Miss. — Warden Brand Huffman wants his inmates to learn a lesson or two while they are spending time in the Chickasaw County Regional Correctional Facility.
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> Beyond learning not to commit more crimes when released, Huffman wants them to discover ways to make positive contributions to their future communities. This goal drew him to programs offered by the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
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> “The people who are locked up are eventually going back into communities,” Huffman said. “We want to give them something they can use when they get out.”
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> Huffman said filling out a job application and checking the box labeled “convicted felon” can put a former inmate at the bottom of the list. However, having proof of additional education, possibly in a field related to that job, can show initiative and promise of a person ready to work.
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> Chickasaw County Extension Coordinator Scott Cagle has been teaching and coordinating courses in horticulture, animal science and forestry at the facility for over a year now. Inmates must first be interested in taking these courses and must also maintain behavioral standards.
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> “Taking the classes is a privilege. The topics are typically something participants are interested in — possibly for future employment opportunities,” Cagle said.
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> Extension has been recording the classes for reuse at the Chickasaw facility or at other correctional facilities around the state.
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> “We are also looking at expanding our programs to cover issues such as parenting, marketing and anger management,” Cagle said. “The horticulture program was so popular we are working with the facility to build a greenhouse to grow trees, shrubs and bedding plants for our municipalities in Chickasaw County.”
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> Most recently, Cagle concluded a 12-hour course on managing a family forest. In this class, participants grew tree seedlings that will be planted on public lands around the county for beautification purposes.
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> “Each man receives a certificate if he successfully completes the course. It’s a small thing, but it means a lot to them, and it should mean a lot to others,” Cagle said.
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> Keenan Watkins has just completed the forestry course. He said lessons he learned could help his family make decisions about older trees on their land.
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> “I hope to use this information when I get out,” Watkins said. “It’s been a great way to better myself.”
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> J.D. Rodgers said his family also owns land that could benefit from much of what he learned in the class.
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> “This (forestry) class was something to look forward to every Monday. The speakers were good, and I enjoyed the wildlife lessons, especially the food plot information,” Rodgers said. “I want to take the horticulture class when it is offered again.”
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> The warden said the positive feedback from the participants lets him know the courses are serving a purpose.
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> “Our goal is not to see these men again after their release,” Huffman said. “Hopefully, the experience will help them get back on the right track when they get out.”
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