VIENNA — Part of the programming for offenders sentenced to time in Shawnee Correctional Center, a medium security prison in Vienna, is education.
Lu Walker, assistant warden for programs, said education takes many forms and gives offenders a chance at employment after completing their sentences. Programs include: adult basic education, GED, automotive mechanics, construction technology, recycling and more.
The results of this training are visible throughout the prison grounds. For example, the three dogs in being trained in the SWATT (Shawnee Wellness Assistance Therapy Training) program share a great townhouse in their yard. The townhouse dog house was built by the offenders in the construction technology classes.
They also built a castle dog house that was donated to Project Hope, a no-kill animal shelter in Metropolis, to use in a fundraiser. Warden Jeff Dennison explained that much of what the class builds is used to help nonprofit organizations like CASA or The Women's Center raise money.
In addition to dog houses, the class also builds playhouses, shooting tables, picnic tables, wooden flag plaques, Illinois-shaped plaques, holiday decorations, a bee box and other items.
"I guarantee I am the only warden in the state with a bee suit in my trunk," Dennison said.
Allen Jackson, instructor of the class, said ideas come from magazines, Pinterest and other people.
"Sometimes an offender will have an idea that's pretty good," Jackson said.
Dennison said one of the things that fell victim to the state budget crisis was gifts for retiring employees.
"I had to come up with my own way to honor staff as they go," he said.
With the help of the construction tech and metal fabricating workshops, he now has the perfect gift. The construction shop builds Illinois-shaped plaques, and the metal fabricators create logos with the employee's name to go on it.
Ronald Wiley, one of the men in the class, described their current project as an "over-the-top" birdhouse.
"It's something fly for the birds," Wiley said.
When finished, the birdhouse will have several nesting spots and stands more than five feet tall.
"It's kind of like building a house. You have to have a blueprint of the structure," Wiley said.
He took the class to give him a path to employment.
"It helps you keep out of trouble and is a way to make money," he said.
Jackson said the class has a modest budget for construction materials, and they use reclaimed pallets.
"We get things donated to us, too," Jackson said.
The offenders also learn to give back to their communities through the donations and other activities like food drives.
"We are doing a lot things here," Walker said.