Wood Furniture and Toys Made by Offenders Bring in More Than $10,000 for Forks Charity
April 1, 2016
FORKS – Band saws, hammers and electric drills aren’t tools prison inmates normally get access to, but a group of offenders at the Olympic Corrections Center use them to make toys, works of art and even furniture for a local charity auction.
“Most of this stuff is coming from the heart,” said 51-year-old offender Rodney Clark, as he sanded a piece of wood he plans on painting and turning into an orca statue. “I found a niche I didn’t know I had.”
Clark, who is serving a five-and-a-half-year sentence for trafficking stolen property, recently made a slew of items with other offenders including a rocking horse, salmon statues, garden benches and a working toy truck and backhoe.
The items helped fetch $10,862 at the annual Quillayute Valley Scholarship Auction last month. The auction has been held every year for more than half a century to raise scholarship money for graduating students at Forks High School.
Darla DePew, a spokeswoman for the prison, said the items made by offenders usually account for about 10 percent of the total amount raised. “They take so much pride in what they make and they’re always eager to see how well their items do,” she said.
Rufus Kain, a former corrections sergeant began a wood products shop at OCC in the early 1990s. The tradition of making items for charity began with toys, said John Aldana, superintendent at OCC, and it quickly became known as “the toy shop.”
As offenders refined their skills, the projects became more elaborate, to include garden furniture and larger sculptures. One year, an offender even made a wooden replica of the Eiffel Tower that almost reached the ceiling.
“It’s satisfying for them because they have an impact on the community,” Aldana said. “They take a lot of pride in making these things. They walk away from here with a set of hands-on skills and knowledge that can help them with employment on the outside.”
The wood is often scrap material that is donated from local and regional businesses such as Westport Shipyards in Grays Harbor County or from construction or demolition sites. Other times, it comes from downed trees from windstorms.
Offenders also use the wood shop to learn carpentry skills and help with routine construction maintenance projects, according to Greg Banner, plant supervisor at the prison. They’ve repaired broken window panes and assembled the greenhouses where offenders grow produce that’s used in offenders’ meals as well as donated to community food banks.
The auction is just one of many charity projects to which the offenders donate items throughout the year. Offenders have used their talents to raise money for numerous organizations like the Quileute Nation Housing Authority, The Wounded Warriors Foundation, Soroptimist International of the Olympic Rain Forest and Sarge’s Place, a non-profit organization that provides emergency shelter for homeless veterans in Forks.
OCC offenders have provided community service in other ways, too. Community service crew offenders have painted schools during the summer months when classes aren’t in session. They’ve also helped with projects on Habitat for Humanity build sites when regular volunteers aren’t there. To be on the crew, they have to be infraction free for a year, have no sex offense convictions and not have certain community ties (such as to a gang or to a registered crime victim).
Mark Pratt, an offender at the prison, says the pride he gets from working in the shop has helped him stay out of trouble. Pratt, 30, has just under a year left on his 20-month sentence for drug charges. He used to do carpentry for the Port of Tacoma prior to his incarceration. Working in a shop is relaxing, he said. “It was something comfortable and it takes my mind off everything here.”
He said his experience in prison actually saved his life. He plans on going to school to study to become a chemical dependency counselor after his release.
“Some people say I got arrested, I say I got rescued,” Pratt said. “It’s disappointing being away from family, but I wouldn’t have gotten clean any other way.”