Inmates volunteer to help Illinois communities threatened by flooding

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EAST ST. LOUIS - Thousands of sandbags with the fingerprints of criminals are showing up at several Illinois communities threatened by floodwaters.

Dozens of inmates from the Southwestern Illinois Correction Center, a minimum-security prison for adult males in East St. Louis, have been filling more than eight thousand sandbags a day.

Two sandbag filling operations in the prison yard have been running 24 hours a day for more than a week now with about 30 inmates on each shift. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency put out a call to state prisons asking wardens to ask inmates to volunteer for the job. I-DOT trucks deliver the sand and bags every morning and then pick up the pallets of the thousands of bags throughout the day. More than half of the seven hundred inmates at Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center answered the call from the warden who asked for volunteers. Some of the inmates are working double shifts every day.

“We just appreciate the opportunity to come out here and help some of the communities. We know there are people out there that are struggling families, children stuff like that so for us to be able to lend a hand and give back to the community after some of our history, it feels good. Makes us feel good and we appreciate the opportunity to come out and help out,” said inmate Ryan Berry.

"I think it’s great. I mean it really gives a little purpose for us here and the guys that are doing this I mean, it’s all volunteer kind of stuff and I think it’s good for their morale, our morale, and the communities’ morals as well," Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center Warden Ron Vitale said.

Some of the sandbags have been sent to Greene, Calhoun, and Pike Counties because of the flooding on the Illinois River. Other communities will be receiving them as well.

Warden Vitale says he expects their sandbag filling operation to continue through the month of June.

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