FAIRMONT - Tom Hennis and Kyle Redenius don't look at the people in the Sentencing To Service program as "criminals." They see them as opportunities to improve the community.
It's true, the people "doing time" in STS have broken the law and are there by court order to pay off fines they have incurred. But crew leaders Hennis and Redenius hope they can teach them a better way of doing things.
"Just because you made a mistake, it's not the end of the world," said Hennis, crew leader for Faribault County. "I always tell the crew it's not my job to punish people more. It's my job to help you pay off the fine, provide an opportunity, and help them take something with them and move on with life."
GETTING?THE?JOB?DONE?— Working for Sentencing To Service, Dustin Halverson puts wheels on one of the new Martin County recycling bins this week in Fairmont.
"Be safe, respectful," said Redenius, crew leader along with John McDonald in Martin County. "We go over our expectations with people. That's another part of that teaching moment. We're teaching them a lot of little lessons in respect."
Hennis and Redenius mentor their crews as they work, cleaning up after a natural disaster like tornadoes and floods, searching for missing people, shoveling snow, picking up litter, washing fire engines and ambulances, helping at the libraries and courthouses, hanging city decorations, and painting city buildings.
This week, the STS crew assembled 4,000 new 65-gallon recycling bins that will soon be distributed. Because STS is overseen by the State Department of Corrections, crews from Faribault and Martin counties work together frequently on projects such as the recycling program, Solid Waste, Prairieland projects and, of course, the natural disasters that cross county lines.
"Who else is going to do this?" Hennis asked. "Will it take tax dollars to do that? Do you want to pay highly skilled workers to push brooms around?"
Hennis knows the program has had a positive effect on some who have been under his leadership.
After picking up trash, some have vowed to never litter again, Hennis said. Clearing snow from fire hydrants opens their eyes in the same way, making them realize how much time is lost in an emergency digging out a buried hydrant.
"I've gotten calls from people who say, 'Thanks, I really appreciated what you said. When you explained it, I was looking at it wrong,'" Hennis said. "For me, that's pretty rewarding. It's impacted them in a positive way."
Some people go through the program once and Hennis and Redenius never see them again. That's the ideal, but they realize that sometimes it takes a few trips through for others to learn.
Dustin Halverson has been through STS more than once, but the leaders haven't given up on him. Halverson keeps getting in trouble for traffic violations, like failure to yield and not wearing his seat belt.
"In my experience, doing STS has benefitted me more on knowledge. I've gotten to know more people who can vouch for the work you do," Halverson said.
"Dustin's a go-getter; he's a worker," Redenius said.
Halverson's work on the kestral bird boxes, tornado and flood cleanup, Opera House renovations, and taking out a counter at the courthouse have brought him in contact with a wide variety of people who really appreciate the work being done and still remember him.
"They thank these guys," said Redenius. When the crew washes the buses, "the drivers show up with cookies."
Sometimes those contacts lead to jobs.
"We get calls for job references," Redenius said. "I'll give them a reference."
"It's a good program for me. If you follow through and work with it, it's quite an experience," Halverson said. "I can't think of better crew leaders. They don't judge anybody; [they] show the same respect you give them. It's surprising to see people who work with those judged as criminals and have such a positive attitude."
About two years ago, there was talk of the state cutting STS to try to save money, Redenius said.
"All the little communities we provide services for called and wrote in about what we do. Overall, people really appreciate what the program can do for them," Hennis said, and lawmakers kept STS.
Halverson, for one, is glad the program was saved.
"People like me have issues finding work. It makes it that much harder to pay fines," he said. "I appreciate the fact the state put this program together and gives us people to work with us."