RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Fresh cut grass, raked leaves. A crew seen driving in a little truck around the Virginia Capitol takes care of everything that greets visitors and state workers alike.
Being outside, even on a hot morning like Tuesday, is a perk of the job for James Stewart.
“Just free your mind and think about other things instead of just thinking about the time you still have to do so,” Stewart said.
The 37-year-old from Tappahannock is doing time for selling drugs. He’s six months in and has 21 months to go at the James River Work Center in Goochland County.
Stewart’s part of a program that gets him out of the correctional facility five days a week to work on the Capitol grounds, under the supervision of Corrections Officers.
“We’ve been working down here for years,” Officer Terri Lewis said. She’s been with the offender work crew for seven years. “They seem like they put their best foot forward, in being able to see what it’s like outside of the prison walls.”
The program reintroduces offenders with non-violent convictions into the community. According to a department spokesperson, “offenders must have no current or prior convictions for murder I or II, voluntary manslaughter, sex offense, kidnap or abduction, malicious wounding, escape, flight/FTA pattern, felony detainers, or carjacking as defined in COV §18.2-58.1.”
Over 1,200 offenders are in work centers as of June.
Officer Lewis says if you take a look at the Capitol crew, they look like any other group of groundskeepers in the area. You don’t see any indicators that they are offenders, she says as not to distract from the work that they’re doing.
“They’re good guys, they made mistakes. Just as many of us do,” she added.
They’re working towards another life on the outside too.
“Another major thing I can come out here and think about is what I need to do to be a better person,” Stewart said. “We may be locked up, but we’re still good people. We’re not trying to cause no problems – nothing like that. We’re just trying to better ourselves.”
An inmate work crew has been at the Capitol for at least 20 years, according to the Dept. of Corrections. The offenders are also paid for their work by the department.