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Inmates Provide a Christmas Present for NMJC

Inmates Provide a Christmas Present for NMJC photo 12/22/2006 2:50:45 p.m. - Hobbs, NM. New Mexico Junior College's nationally renowned Thunderbird baseball program received an early Christmas present on Thursday, December 22, thanks to a number of talented inmates.

As part of a New Mexico Correctional Department community service program, five inmates from the nearby Lea County Correctional Facility were approved to work at NMJC's Thunderbird baseball field to replace and substantially upgrade the protective metal fencing in front of the dugouts.

According to Head Baseball Coach Ray Birmingham, the situation provides benefits for everyone involved. "These guys are a class act. Some people get a little nervous around prisoners, but trust me, these are good guys. They've done good things. They want to work and get out and do some things, and we need their help, so it's a win-win situation."

Furthermore, he insists, the fans will benefit indirectly. "What they're building will make the ballpark look classy," he said. "It not only adds to the safety but also to the aesthetics of the baseball field."

Other community organizations throughout Lea County have benefited as well, including Hobbs High School, College of the Southwest, Little League, and a number of Hobbs elementary schools.

In addition to providing a much-needed service, the inmates receive several benefits as well. They are paid 50 to 60 cents an hour for their work and enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done, not to mention time spent away from the facility. One inmate, Hector Martinez, who has only eight months left on his sentence, said, "We learn how to work as a team. There's camaraderie. This is helping me because I'm helping somebody -- the kids and the players -- so they can have a better baseball field. I feel more confident in myself. It allows me to help my community. It also helps me with my skills when I return to the work force."

The sentiments are seconded by fellow inmate Drake Shafer, who has two years left on his sentence. "It's paying back society for what we did. It helps you get back in a normal routine, and you get to interact with the general public. It shows what you can do and what you're made of. It's just better to give than receive. Period."

And for such a gift, offered in the true spirit of Christmas, the entire New Mexico Junior College campus is genuinely grateful.

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