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Inmates staying in touch with the outside world

By Staff
INMATE AT WORK State inmate Shelton Harbin is serving his sentence working at Lauderdale County's Department of Archives and History. Photo by Marianne Todd/The Meridian Star
By Marianne Todd/staff writer
Jan. 8, 2002
No sight is sweeter to Shelton Harbin than his jail cell door opening each day to some semblance of freedom.
Harbin is one of about 60 state inmates entrusted with working outside the confines of the Lauderdale County Detention Facility doing everything from filing records to picking up trash.
An airplane mechanic for 15 years and a former grocery store manager, Harbin's life took a turn for the worse on bad decision. A drug charge landed him five years in the state penitentiary, but life is looking brighter for the 44-year-old Meridian man. He only has one year left to serve, and he's doing that making historical documents, creating microfilms and transporting documents for the county instead of wasting the hours away in a jail cell.
A good line of work
Bunker, the archival department's librarian, said trusties account for a good amount of man hours in the department.
State trusties accounted for roughly 120,000 man hours in Lauderdale County in 2001, a figure that officials say saved taxpayers more than $600,000 in wages.
Jail Administrator Maj. Doris Callahan said the program helps boost self-esteem and teaches useful skills.
After working a full shift picking up trash on the roadside, harvesting vegetables, working in the kitchen, doing laundry or washing cars all day, inmates return to the jail for GED classes, religious programs and services and Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous classes, she said. After that, they're too tired for trouble.
A good man, a bad decision
State inmates are trusties who have not been convicted of violent crimes. Most are serving sentences for drug-related charges, and many had full lives before getting into trouble. Ables said some inmates save the county thousands of dollars with talents they had before they got into trouble.
Harbin isn't sure what he'll do once he is released.