- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) - There’s another way of breathing free air while serving a jail sentence, but it might involve shoveling livestock feces.

So long as an inmate is eligible, meets specific requirements and is accepted to the program, the inmate can make the time spent in jail feel quicker, and shorter.

Instead of paying a debt to society by sitting in a room with four white walls, a select few are helping out at Cam-plex, maintaining the grounds at the jail, washing government vehicles or completing custodial or cooking work inside the prison.

Residents recognize them by their horizontal black-and-white stripes removing snow in front of the entrance to the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office on a cold day. But they never cease to offer a warm welcome to anyone who passes by. The 12 men of Cell Block P and three women in Cell Block J feel fortunate to be part of the program.

It has its advantages, but not everyone can participate.

The inmate work program allows inmates to pay off a portion of their court costs, fines and fees, or even shorten their jail sentence. The day-for-a-day plan, which must be court ordered, is exactly like is sounds. Each day of work reduces their prison term by one day. Inmates can decrease up to half of their time spent in jail through the program. At 40 hours a week and five work days, that can drastically shorten life behind bars.

“I get out sooner than if I would be sitting in a normal cell,” inmate and program participant Weston Weir said. He is serving 180 days for failure to pay fines on multiple DUIs and a traffic ticket. “It also makes the time go by faster. It’s win-win.”

The benefits don’t stop there. Receiving daily snacks, coffee, listening to music, pillow cases, a removable pillow and a daily change of clothes are just some of the secondary amenities.

“Those are the perks,” Cpl. David Brunson said.

He has been in charge of the program for 14 years. He balances authority and comaradery. It’s his responsibility to get to know the inmates, assign them to certain jobs that suit their skills and set the schedule. He also gives the final thumbs up or thumbs down on who can be in the work program.

A typical walk through the jail halls warrants inquiries from a number of inmates.

“If I plead guilty can I?” asks a female inmate with a pending trial as she exits her block.

“I only have one felony,” she implores.

“It’s a privilege and people want to be part of it,” Brunson said.

Moorcroft resident Dylan Carpenter started the program this week. He said it took persistence to be accepted.

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