The sun was shining, there was a cool breeze, and even better; the weather forecast was calling for in excess of six inches of rain the following day. This would be perfect for the project taking place at Shelby County Detention Center in Memphis, Tennessee. I could hardly contain my excitement as I was about to witness my first institution project as a member of the GreenPrisons team!
In just a couple of hours GreenPrisons CEO Tommy Norris and I would be witnessing the first inmate crew in the country being trained and independently laying Flexi-pave, a porous pavement created by Kevin Bagnall of KBI Industries that resolves flooding and puddling water. The unique nature of the product is found not only in its’ ability to remedy flooding, but also the base material which is made from recycled tires and environmentally friendly propriety adhesive. The flooding to come the following day would allow the ultimate test for the new product. It was to be installed by a crew of six female inmates selected by Deputy Director of Operations Bailey Waits.
If it Sounds Too Good to be True…Is it?
Now about this time the same things are probably running through your mind as mine on this day…a female crew? Laying pavement? While they were obviously chosen based on institution security criteria and policy, one had to wonder if physical strength was somehow associated with the “hand-picked” group. Despite the reassurance from Mr. Bagnall during the planning stages of this project that these women would have no trouble learning or laying this pavement, I had some reservations. Mr. Bagnall went even so far as to say that the crew could be trained and complete the job in somewhere around four hours. This seemed somewhat more difficult to believe, but now, the moment of truth!
The female crew was a group of six average women who would be difficult to imagine on a construction site laying pavement. Mr. Bagnall greeted the female crew and initiated his introduction to training on procedures for mixing and laying Flexi-pave. At first glance the crew appeared unsure and somewhat nervous, but after the short introduction the work commenced and the crew quickly mastered the process. Tools required for the project consisted of a mixer, wheelbarrow, and a few yard tools. The product came in 50lb bags and was easy to transport with the mix consisting of simply adding the non-toxic adhesive to Flexi-Pave, and mixing the materials in a mortar mixer.
The Clock was Ticking…
Within 30 minutes of sitting down for training the crew began their initial preparatory work of the first area where the pavement would be laid. The gravel was dropped and the crew wasted no time. After a quick demonstration from the KBI team, the women grabbed their tools and went to work spreading and leveling graveled area which would serve as the base for the Flexi-Pave. As it went down the porous pavement would essentially bond and become one with the gravel base. Once Flexi-Pave was bonded, it formed a hard paved surface that allowed the rain to flow through to the earth.
They Are Really Doing This!
Correctional officers, staff, administration, and even the director came to the work site to watch as the female crew took ownership of their project. Mid-way through the first slab of Flexi-Pave the small crew of six was mixing, dumping, and spreading the pavement independently. They had developed a rhythm and quickly attained the finesse needed to put on the finishing touches smoothing the pavement into a striking finished product. The only question remaining…could they actually meet the four-hour deadline to be briefed, trained, and complete the work presented by Mr. Bagnall?
The second slab of Flexi-Pave went down without a hitch. The crew was really cranking it out and appeared to have worked out all the kinks. The determination of the female crew had gained momentum and did not stop until the project was complete. I looked at my watch. Four hours almost exactly from start to finish this crew had been trained and independently laid two complete and well-finished slabs of Flexi-Pave. Wow!
Off to Work They Go…
Upon return to Operations Deputy Wait’s office, he informed us of two requests from the city of Memphis to complete projects with the material in the downtown area and local city park. The Shelby County Detention Center had not only embraced an environmentally friendly product which would further enhance sustainability efforts within their own institution, but they had now been sought after to work within and assist their local community! The thought that it could not get any better than this was certainly in my mind as we went to debrief the small female crew on the events of the day.
GreenPrisons CEO, Tommy Norris spoke first followed by KBI founder Kevin Bagnall. The enthusiasm, drive, and determination of the women was acknowledged and complimented. I stood back and watched the women as their tired postures took form into a proud group. And then…the grand finale! Mr. Bagnall offered to validate the women’s training with a level 1 certificate which could provide them employment opportunities post-incarceration. Mr. Bagnall further offered to hire any of the women who fully completed the program without incident into his company! The women’s eyes lit up, and with that, a happy ending to a historical day. The Shelby County Detention Center, inmates and staff alike, could be proud in their multiple accomplishments on this day. What began with an effort to obtain institution sustainability had ended with an environmentally friendly product, reduced flooding issues, a trained inmate crew, and an institution giving back to their community.