The view beats a jail cell |

The view beats a jail cell

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

There were flecks of bright orange on Independence Pass this fall, and not just from the changing leaves.

Inmates from the Buena Vista Correctional Complex’s medium security facility were atop the pass clad in orange jumpsuits, helping the Independence Pass Foundation with landscaping work to prevent erosion and stabilize the land. As part of the correctional work program, the men were paid marginally by the state, and the foundation benefits from the free labor pool.

Besides planting native vegetation on steep hillsides, the inmates also kept the road free of rock debris and directed traffic in the area around heavy machinery.

“It’s beautiful up here,” said Edward Becker, an inmate who was holding a “Slow/Stop” sign up to cars during the project. Becker is part of the correctional complex’s heavy-equipment program and is one of the only certified flaggers the facility has. “It’s a good opportunity to correspond with the outside world.”

Becker has received training from projects like this one for job skills he’ll use once he’s released from a halfway house. Nearby, correctional officer Bill Frieda said this particular group of workers are minimum-security inmates who get the privilege of traveling off the complex grounds to work for nonprofit organizations.

“Most of the guys are ready to get out, and [they] do this to learn something so when they get out of corrections almost all of them have some work traits,” he said.

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The inmates gave favorable reactions to the work, with the exception of the cold chill of the early-morning hours atop the pass. Frieda said the men probably planted 250 plants in one day.

“They get more done when they like what they’re doing,” he said.

According to Independence Pass Foundation executive director Mark Fuller, this late summer and fall the men from Buena Vista contributed three weeks to the project ? probably around 300 hours worth of work.

“They’re ready and willing to do hard, taxing work, and it’s been very, very important for making progress in some tough-to-access areas,” Fuller said.

He said he gives a short orientation on the reconstruction work on the topmost part of the pass (known as the “Top Cut”) so the men understand the point of the work being done. Eventually the foundation hopes to restore native vegetation to areas above and beneath the road that have eroded over time.

The project will take years to complete, but Fuller said the inmates have helped the work in leaps and bounds.

“The nice thing we’ve found is that these guys take a lot of pride in what they’re doing,” Fuller said. “They really are much more conscious about providing us with quality work than a lot of people we might pay. And they’re doing it because it’s an alternative to being behind bars.”

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