Pre-release inmates help replenish South River oyster beds
Inmate: "It is a humbling experience getting to help these people and the bay"
By E.B. Furgurson III
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Watermen say any day working the water is better than a day on land. For three inmates from the state’s Eastern Pre-Release Unit, Thursday was even better than that.
The men spent one of their last days behind bars helping plant an oyster bar off the South River as part of the Marylanders Grow Oyster Program. They worked under the auspices of the South River Federation, the local coordinator for the state oyster program.
It began with a boat ride on the river well away from their usual Department of Corrections quarters in Church Hill on the Eastern Shore.
Then the sloppy work began — hauling muck-coated cages full of year-old oysters from a dock in the Watergate community on Fishing Creek, loading them on the boat, then planting them at a 10-year old sanctuary oyster bar in Glebe Bay.
“It is a humbling experience getting to help these people and the bay,” said Maris Nesbitt, a South Carolina native due to be released in February. “And I learned something today about oysters.”
The men are part of a Public Safety Works program that provides inmates with opportunities to learn job skills and contribute to communities across the state. Roughly 317 pre-release and minimum security inmates work outside corrections facilities most weekdays.
In Anne Arundel County, they can be found working the State House grounds, at the Crownsville Veterans Cemetery and on road crews.
They also have assisted the Parole Rotary Club in setting up before and cleaning up after its annual barbecue festival in May, and have done beach cleanup at Sandy Point State Park.
Part of the Public Safety Works program supports the state’s natural resources.
The South River Federation has gotten inmate assistance clearing brush and spreading 14 yards of wood chips on a rain garden project, as well as in planting trees for stream restoration projects.
“They are great to work with and positive from the time they arrive to the time they leave. And boy do they work,” said Jennifer Carr, the federation’s projects manager.
“Their help expands our capacity,” Carr said, noting that her organization has only five full-time employees.
Chris Judy, manager of the Marylanders Grow Oysters program, was on hand for Wednesday’s effort. She said that Department of Corrections inmates provide other services for oyster restoration.
“The cages we use to grow the oysters are made by corrections men at the Eastern Release Center and Hagerstown facility,” Judy said. “We have 7,500 of them in the water today.”
“It came full circle,” said John Rowley, the Public Safety Works program’s coordinator. “We built the cages and now that the oysters are grown, we are taking them to the sanctuary.”
Under the Marylanders Grow Oysters program, the state provides cages and shell laden with oyster spat to local organizations and residents. Those participants then distribute the materials to volunteers, who hang the cages from piers in scores of waterways.
Some of the cages and shell were delivered to Kim and Mark Wiggins in Watergate off Fishing Creek last year. The couple tackled the task of setting up 32 cages and tying them to the community pier. Most volunteers have only four cages.
“It is a lot of work,” Kim Wiggins said. “But it is a good feeling to know it is doing some good.”
The inmates said they had the same good feeling after planting the day’s 11,200 oysters in Glebe Bay.
“I get satisfaction,” said Clifton Harris, who has eight months to go before being released.
“But coming across here on that boat, that was fun.”