Hammering Out a Partnership Auction gives prison inmates an opportunity to give back to community

By Gus Bode

On Saturday, Carbondale Community High School provided a temporary home for a number of smaller ones – dollhouses. These dollhouses sat on tables of the school’s cafeteria, on display for attendants of an auction, “Hammering Out a Partnership.” The dollhouses being auctioned off were both aesthetically pleasing and required a great deal of time and concentration from their makers. However, they were just one step in the process of constructing larger living environments for society.

The auction of these dollhouses and other items made by prisoners took place at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. The event was sponsored by the Prisoner and Family Ministries through Lutheran Social Services of Illinois and consisted of a silent auction, dinner and live auction respectively. The event offered the opportunity to purchase several handmade items, including paintings, shelves, rocking horses and other wooden items.

There was nothing unusual about the paintings, dollhouses and other items that were up for bid. It was the makers of these items – prison inmates – that greatly separated Saturday’s event from the typical auction. One goal of the event, according to Jane Otte, executive director for Lutheran Social Services, is to decrease the level of separation experienced by these prison inmates.

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“One difficult thing is the separation and stereotypes given to people and other ideas people have about people in prison,” said Jane Otte, who has been with the organization for the past 14 years. She said similar programs exist in several states including Michigan and Texas. “Everybody wins, and it’s so important for these prison inmates to have a way to give back.”

This is the second year the event has taken place through the Building Homes:Rebuilding Lives program. The program serves as a means for prison inmates to construct and create items to be used in society. Items are sold in auctions such as this one, with proceeds going toward lumber for houses and house items for the Habitat for Humanity program.

The Habitat for Humanity program, which constructs new homes and living environments for those in need, is the primary recipient of money obtained through the Building Homes:Rebuilding Lives effort. Prison inmates use the money received through these auctions to buy the lumber needed to build houses, walls, storage sheds and furniture for these houses.

After a successful event last year in Peoria, those affiliated with the program decided to take their efforts downstate to Carbondale. They said they are already planning for next year’s auction, which will take place in Springfield.

According to John Holmes, the Building Homes:Rebuilding Lives coordinator, the program was established by Dane Eggertson, retired superintendent for the Department of Corrections School, in hopes of raising money for the project. Since their beginning, the organization has done a great deal to assist in decreasing the separation that currently exists between prison inmates and society.

“The No. 1 thing is to see how skilled these prison inmates are,” Holmes said. “It gives people a chance to see prison inmates are human beings and can do things that can help people.

“In building homes, they’re taking classes and getting real practice that’s going to help somebody. It’s a beautiful project, a good organization and good fellowship.”

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Otte said though she would not have minded a larger turnout, she was satisfied with the number of attendants at the auction. By 6 p.m., 200 tickets had been sold to the dinner, enough to at least cover the expenses of sponsoring the auction. Otte said any additional money raised would go toward donations to programs such as Habitat for Humanity.

Glenn Poshard, who attended the auction, said his organization, The Poshard Foundation, would also receive assistance from the auction. The Poshard Foundation, which comes to the aid of neglected and abused children, was able to build the walls of a shelter in Cairo with the help of the Building Homes:Rebuilding Lives project. In the near future, the foundation is hoping to build a new home for the Anna Bixby shelter in Harrisburg. Both places provide a safe environment for abused women as well as children who have been abused and neglected.

“They’re the greatest people to work with because they have the same desire to help abused women and children as we do,” Poshard said. “Our motto is to provide a safe person, provide a safe home and safe community for neglected and abused children, and they [Lutheran Social Services] share our same goal.

“I hope this makes lots of money because it’s for the very best cause.”

As time winded down in the silent auction, Holmes reminded bidders to check to make certain other participants had not outbid them. Afrika Bradley and Melissa Patrick, members of the Social Work Student Affiliation, were among those who spent time prior to dinner perusing the items up for bid. Though they were taking a break from looking over the items, both said they were amazed by the work available.

“The stuff that the inmates made shows that they are still giving to the community even though they’re in the situation they’re in,” Patrick said. “It’s uplifting to see they are still giving to the community.”

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