“It’s way more than bags for me”: Illinois inmates bag thousands of sandbags for flood victims

DUQUOIN, IL – People are trying to get ahead of the rising Mississippi River by making thousands of sandbags.  Governor J.B. Pritzker issued a state disaster proclamation one month ago for 34 Illinois counties.

Multiple state agencies are still working side by side to save river communities up and down the Mississippi.

Thousands of those sandbags lay in the front yard of  DuQuoin Impact Incarceration. The Illinois Department of Transportation is waiting to deliver them to river counties affected by flooding.

Keith Miley, the operations engineer of IDOT in Southern Illinois, says they can’t get behind on sandbags. “We have delivered over 100 thousand sandbags since last Saturday,” Miley said, “so we get large orders for bags.”

They’re now using an automatic sandbagger from the Army Corps of Engineers from St. Louis. The men manually bagged 50 thousand sandbags since Sunday. They’re goal for this Saturday is 20 thousand sandbags.

Metz (L) received his GED in about 45 days after coming into the program.

Andrew Metz is on of the thousands of inmates across Illinois making sandbags. He grew up along the Illinois and Mississippi River.

“It’s always getting flooded down there ma’am,” he said. “It’s crazy because my granny, my grandma, she live in Brooklyn and that’s less then 20 miles away from the river ma’am.”

He says each bag means something to him.

“So as I’m bagging I’m thinking like this bag could be going down to my granny Sue’s house and saving my granny ma’am,” Metz said.

Yes ma’am and no ma’am are a part of the curriculum at this program. Metz traded in a five year accessory to robbery sentence for four months in the boot camp style program.

Jacob Silverman was also facing five years for residential burglary. “I know that if I can at least help one person and one house that it makes it all worth it,” Silverman said, “and the hard work and effort I’m putting forth.”

Every inmate working volunteered their time. Their supervisor says it’s their first steps to repay society.

“There’s nothing better about serving Illinois when you have citizens in this state in dire need of sandbags,” said Jason Henton, the unit superintendent, “and we can come in as a labor intensive work force to produce those sandbags for them.”

Hard work is the example Metz wants to set for his two kids waiting for their dad.

“Everybody here plans on going back and having a positive impact on the community. They don’t want to go back and and do the same things they were doing,” Metz said. “That’s why they choose the program ma’am, to change their ways or they would have just went to the jail cell.”

Henton said corrections centers across Illinois have bagged almost a million sandbags since the flooding started. The Department of Transportation anticipates these sandbags will go to Jackson, Union, and Alexander county.