By ASHLEY M. LEWIS
OWINGS MILLS (Nov. 7, 2008)—Sylvester Woodland, David Fisher and two other Maryland inmates planted flowers in honor of Veterans Day at the Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery in Owings Mills Friday afternoon.
The small planting ceremony followed the announcement of the newly expanded inmate labor partnership program, which allows inmates who are military veterans to maintain and improve veteran cemeteries in Maryland.
"This program is a restoration of dignity project," said Woodland, 42. "This project gave me hope for my own restoration and the opportunity to get out there and do right."
Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary Maynard and Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary James Adkins praised the program.
"This is a wonderful program," Maynard said. "And I can guarantee that there is no other program for veteran inmates like this in the United States."
Last year, Maynard suggested using veteran inmates to work in veteran cemeteries to give them a chance to pay society back and connect with their communities. Since then, the Division of Correction has identified 420 inmates who have served in the military, but only those who are honorably discharged and in the last stages of their incarceration at a pre-release center are eligible for the program.
There were 140,000 veterans held in state and federal prisons in the United States in 2004, according to a 2007 Bureau of Justice Statistics report. Of those veteran prisoners, four percent had served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Since Sept. 2, the four-man inmate crew from the Division of Correction's Central Laundry Facility has cleared 75 percent of the fence line around the Owings Mills veterans cemetery, weeded and mulched all of the flower beds, and begun realigning more than 350 headstones.
The ages of the inmates range from the late 20s to the late 50s.
Woodland, one of the inmates, is scheduled to be released soon and has already been given a job at one of the state's veteran cemeteries through the project's transition program. Another veteran inmate who worked at Garrison Forest cemetery was recently released and will also begin working full-time as a state employee at one of Maryland's five veteran cemeteries.
The inmate labor program began this past spring at the Crownsville Veterans Cemetery in Anne Arundel. Maynard plans to bring the program to Cheltenham, Eastern Shore and Rocky Gap veteran cemeteries soon.
"I've made a lot of bad decisions in my life," Woodland said. "But for someone to look at me and give me the opportunity to make things right, really means a lot."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.