Non-violent offenders remove snow for the needy

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — This week, more than 60 non-violent offenders shoveled 100 driveways in Portsmouth for the elderly, handicapped and disabled veterans.

The offenders were scattered across the city, from Churchland to Park View, in small groups. It’s an effort Sheriff Bill Watson started eight years ago.

“It lets the people know the Sheriff is out there supporting them, making sure they are safe and well taken care of,” said Deputy Kevin Dawson, who has been with the sheriff’s office for 10 years. “It’s teaching them work ethics and values.”

Dawson said the residents are very appreciative and the offenders are all happy to be involved. Shoveling driveways is one of many jobs they’re involved with as part of a work release program that gets them out in the community five days a week.

“You can only learn from our mistakes and get better,” said one offender, who is serving a six-month sentence for failure to pay child support. “I wished I would have paid on time, but this is a learning experience for everybody. You disobey the law, they have a place for you.”

That place for the non-violent criminals is in a housing facility, and Deputy Dawson said it gives them more opportunity to grow than being behind bars in a jail cell.

“It’s preparing me for when I go back into society, I can continue to do what I’m doing here,” said the offender. “This is an opportunity for us to help the older people that are unable to help themselves. You know we have grandparents and mothers and stuff, too, that we would want somebody to help doing the same thing.”

The inmates also chopped firewood and delivered it to the elderly last week. Those in need of assistance can call the work release center at (757) 393-5280.

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