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How inmates are helping Vt. farmers - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

How inmates are helping Vt. farmers

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SHELBURNE, Vt. -

Jim Maille knows dairy farming.

"Grandpa bought this in 1919, mom and dad in '69 and I was 9 years old," he said.

He grew up here and now runs the farm. With so much to do, some things fall off the list, like maintenance. And Maille says this Shelburne barn built in 1939 needs help. That's where Melinda Mitchell comes in. She and a group of women volunteered to help with little construction projects, like painting and repairs. There's just one little detail-- all of these women are prisoners.

"I wasn't sure what to think of it, to be honest with you," said Melinda Mitchell, 21.

Mitchell has been in jail for two years. She says she was 19 when she was arrested.

"I was caught bringing drugs into Corrections to an ex-boyfriend," she said.

This is the Vermont Barn Painting Project; a partnership between the Agriculture Agency, Corrections Department and the Preservation Trust of Vermont. Money and supplies are donated from local businesses.

"There's an opportunity to make Vermont's working landscape really work. This is hearts and hands coming together and making a difference in the working landscape," said Jolinda LaClair of the Vt. Agriculture Agency.

Farmer Maille was skeptical when he first got the call from agriculture officials, but the women are supervised.

Maille said, "I was wondering, are they going to walk off with a screwdriver or wrench or what?"

He says the women changed his mind and his farm. The inmates' work saved him about $10,000 and renewed his sense of pride.

"My goal has been to get a dairy distinction award and this might be one step towards achieving that," Maille said.

Today, these women are celebrating over 1,000 hours of hard work on the Maille farm.

Gina Bullard: How do you feel when you see this?

Melinda Mitchell: I'm... impressed. It was a lot of work and it paid off.

Every day on the job site is one day subtracted from their sentence. Mitchell earned a month off her sentence and is set to get out of jail in 12 days.

"It's not a path anyone should go down," Mitchell said. "You lose a lot and it's not worth it in the end."

Helping inmates on their journey while helping farmers keep doing what they love.

The program started two years ago and the prisoners have rehabbed four farms so far. Agriculture officials are looking for an organization to take over the program, but will run it for now.

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