AFSME Local 602 - MSU Moorhead

Crew Leaders Learn to Make a Difference

Mark Berg and his ICWC crews have built much of Plymouth’s Millennium Park (including the waterfall below).

Figuring out how to generate productive work out of people with different skills – and different levels of cooperation – is a core challenge for Sentencing to Service crew leaders.

“It’s kind of like the first day of work every day,” says Local 34’s Jim Edin. In his Hennepin County program, a typical offender spends only two to five days on a crew. That doesn’t make it easy to do much training or build teamwork.

“You have to know how to read people, how to work with people. I have days where I literally have to explain to people: This is the difference between a log and a round and firewood. Because to that group of people, all wood is wood.

“Other days, I’ll have all landscapers and I’m the least knowledgeable person on that crew.”

Leading by example

Crew leaders say it helps to pitch in, lead by example, and be able to solve problems on the fly.
“I don’t have to be the hard-nosed corrections guy,” Edin says. “I’ve just got to take them out, show them the job, ask them to do it, and then make sure it gets done safely.”

“At the end of the day,” says Local 2728’s Steve Borough, “I’ll always tell them ‘thank you.’ When they do good, I tell them that. We treat them like we want to be treated.”

“I get right down there in the ditch with the rest of the guys,” says Local 2728’s Mark Berg. He also makes it a point to make sure his crews step back and appreciate what they accomplish and what they contribute to the communities where they work. “I try to give them a pat on the back as much as I can, because they work real hard and they usually don’t get that.”

Security is rarely an issue

Crew leaders remain aware of potential security issues when they’re in the community, but they say they rarely have problems. “These people aren’t murderers and cut-throats,” Borough says. “Some have just made a mistake.”

“Most people that come to STS are good people,” Edin says. Besides, he says, “the crew leader has a big hammer. Most of these folks have a consequence hanging over their heads if they don’t complete, or refuse to work, or basically won’t follow directions.” It’s up to crew leaders to determine if someone is just having a bad day – or needs to be terminated from the program.

“Some of these folks have jail time, some of these folks have money that they’ve got to pay, some of them have a probation officer waiting for them,” Edin says. “In any one of those cases, STS seems to be the better alternative than what’s going to happen.”

Making a long-term impact

Sometimes, crew leaders say, the program actually helps someone turn their life around.

That’s most likely on one of Berg’s Institution/Community Work Crews. Where STS works with offenders sentenced for misdemeanors, ICWC deals with prison inmates near the end of their sentences. An inmate typically spends six months on an ICWC crew – sometimes as much as a year and a half. That allows them to take on longer projects, or see a project through from start to finish.

“It’s definitely a training program,” Berg says. ”We try to work with them, try to build a positive work ethic, help them get more skills that they can use once they do get out.” He leads minimum-security crews out of Lino Lakes Correctional Facility.

“You have a lot more time to do a one-on-one or talk with a smaller number of the guys” Berg says. “It’s quite different from being inside the fence.

“You still keep your professional distance and you still are the supervisor, but you do get to learn the guys’ strengths and weaknesses, and you get to see them progress.”

“Even if I fail to get through to somebody,” Hennepin County’s Edin says, “every shovel full does something better for the park. Even if the folks don’t get it and they keep coming back, that person has done more for the community than many people who don’t offend.” 


Adapted from the January/February 2011 issue of Council 5's Stepping Up magazine.

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