WINSTON-SALEM - The truth is, when the N.C. Department of Transportation gets calls or comments about the inmate crews that work highway projects across the thousands of miles of roadways, most of them are not positive.
"A lot of times residents call and want to know what an inmate is doing in their area and why inmates are allowed to be out interacting with the public," Division 9 Transportation Supervisor-A, David Odom said.
"Despite inmate convictions those that are working for the state have proven through time served and good behavior that they can be trusted to work the highways." Last week in Forsyth County along Interstate 40 East, they proved just that.
"I was driving up to check on the state employee and the three-man inmate crew, and saw thick smoke billowing into the air around their work site, and my heart dropped. Traffic had slowed a bit and as I got closer I saw a white Ford F-150 with two very lucky passengers."
Odom said two men in a truck veered off to the side of the road where the inmate crew was working trash pick-up duty and jumped out of their vehicle. They were having mechanical issues and the truck was on fire. He said the quick-thinking inmate crew saw their distress, grabbed two extinguishers from the inmate transport truck and rushed to their aid moments before the truck became fully engulfed.
Odom said, "If the fire had grown any bigger, everyone's safety would have been in question and no doubt we would have had to shut down the entire highway."
Superintendent Bonita Witherspoon is in charge the some 250 inmates housed at Forsyth Correctional Center
. When she got wind of what happened; she brought all three inmates into her office to hear first-hand what happened.
"We have an excellent working relationship with the NCDOT and we are glad to provide the inmate labor force when needed, and we are very glad our inmates were working that day," Witherspoon said. "Because of their actions, we plan on recognizing them with meritorious time off of their sentences if they are eligible."
"The bottom line is, this is the type of behavior I expect from the inmate road crews; being diligent and doing what they are suppose to do, even when no one is looking."
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