Pontotoc County Marketing and Tourism Director Brenda Gilstrap said the Agri-plex wouldn’t function without work put in by inmates at Pontotoc County Jail.
“We couldn’t run (the Agri-plex) without them,” Gilstrap said. “We’ve got welders and carpenters. These guys can do electrical work, run heavy equipment and some of them have been around livestock. They just made some bad choices, got caught and they’re all doing their time.”
She said six trustees per day work eight to 15 hours per day seven days a week. At the Agri-plex, they do general tasks, including maintenance and cleaning. The inmates also set up the events. She said the program is strict and Agri-plex personnel operate under procedures set up by Sheriff John Christian.
“They wait in line to able to come over here and work,” Gilstrap said.
In return for their work, promoters of events at the agri-plex sometimes get food and clothing for the inmates and they get to watch the events. Pastor Dan Megehee, pastor of Cross Cut Cowboy Church, holds a devotional for the inmates on Sunday morning.
Benje Bendele of Crazy Heart Sound and Lighting, LLC said the inmates in Pontotoc County have been very professional.
“This is, by far, one of the best groups of people that I come to work with twice a year. Along with a lot of the many folks here, one of the reasons we come to Ada is because of the tremendous support and the local help that’s involved,” he said. “They’re a good group of people.”
Bendele said he’s been impressed by their work ethic.
“They are really diving in,” he said. “They’re right there every morning until the day is over with.”
Gilstrap said a program was recently implemented to allow inmates to earn money toward their jail and court fines.
“None of these are murderers and rapists,” she said. “They’ve just all made bad choices and they’re in for drugs. They work very hard for us out here.”
Jose Palacios, one of the trustees, said he’s thankful Pontotoc County has given him this opportunity.
“It gives me a sense of accomplishment,” Palacios said. “Brenda’s a real good person and a lot of people don’t treat us like we’re people anymore. We made mistakes and she realizes that.”
He said the program instills an appreciation of hard work in him.
“Some people come here, see prisoners and think we shouldn’t be doing this or that. A lot of people don’t realize that we do a lot of the stuff out here,” he said.
Gilstrap said other than the six inmates that work every day, the Agri-plex only has three full-time employees.
“If you start adding that kind of labor, that’s a lot of money,” she said.
Rick Holland, who supervises the inmates, said he thinks it’s a good program.
“I think it does (the inmates) good to be out here sober and showing that they can be a good member of society,” Holland said. “We never have any trouble out of them. I’ve been through what they’ve been through. It’s also cheaper on the county to have them out here.”
“Everybody deserves a second chance,” Gilstrap said.