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Inmates raze homes, clean up area as state program comes to Gary

After clearing sidwalk extensive overgrowth inmates Corey Chapman Fort Wayne (left) Jeff Crapo Michigan City work together clean up debris

After clearing a sidwalk of extensive overgrowth, inmates Corey Chapman of Fort Wayne (left) and Jeff Crapo of Michigan City work together to clean up debris at the intersection of 25th Avenue and Connecticut Street in Gary, Ind. Wednesday August 22, 2012. The Indiana Department of Corrections sent the crew which is cleaning the area of debris and tearing down abandoned buildings. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 24, 2012 7:26AM



GARY — If “community service” conjures images of sullen teens spearing trash along roadsides, watching a crew in Midtown on Wednesday will change that.

In hard hats and vests, with shovels, brooms and heavy equipment, 10 inmates from Westville Correctional Center spent two days razing vacant houses and clearing brush.

“We’re basking in the sun,” inmate James Greer said, smiling as he scooped overgrown grass and weeds from the curb.

Residents passing by stopped to offer thanks and praise. Motorists gave “thumbs up” to workers cutting tall weeds away from the sidewalk.

“This is the most urban setting we’ve seen,” Kevin Orme, Indiana Department of Correction construction services director, said Wednesday.

“We had no idea how we were going to be received. It’s amazed me,” he said.

Georgia Brooks’ reaction was unequivocal. “This is God’s work,” Brooks said. “This is just the start.”

Brooks, the city’s “Rappin Granny,” spoke to everyone on the work site, offering thanks and encouragement.

Orme said a woman walking by mentioned that the next block had a long stretch of sidewalk flanked by tall shrubs and weeds.

“She said she walks it every day, and she’s scared,” Orme said.

Immediately workers began clearing the area and mowing the grass to provide a safe, open path.

While the crew finished tearing down houses, offenders from the Indiana State Prison spruced up an urban park near the South Shore tracks at Arthur Street.

The DOC dispatches teams all over the state, cleaning tornado sites, assisting the Department of Transportation and maintaining the war memorial in Indianapolis.

The construction crews are also responsible for groundskeeping at the prison where they reside.

After DOC Commissioner Bruce Lemmon met with Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, Gary was added to the work schedule for the first time.

“Corrections now just isn’t lock them up and throw away the key,” Orme said. “This gives these guys a work ethic, they can see what it’s like to put in a full eight-hour day. They participate in a vocational program and it gives back to the community,” he said.

Workers razed two houses, at 2501 and 2513 Connecticut St.

Their next stop was a building on Broadway. Before they’re done, at least 20 vacant houses will be demolished, Orme said.

“It’s cost-effective; we bring our own heavy equipment,” he said.

The city’s demolition department was there, too, with a payloader and trucks to haul debris.



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