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Prisoners find purpose in life

Prisoners find purpose in life

January 28th, 2018 by Jeff Haldiman in Local News

Michael Irby works at the computer where he's working on editing and animation techniques. Irby is one of four offenders who work at least five days a week in Jefftown Productions, a video production section at Jefferson City Correctional Center.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

For nearly 35 years and in two different facilities, prisoners at Jefferson City Correctional Center have been managing the TV programming for the prison.

Jefftown, a cable television and production system in operation since 1984, is staffed by five prisoners.

Jefftown operates seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is one of a handful of television stations in the United States that are operated completely with prisoner staffing.

At Jefftown, prisoners not only work on the prison's internal TV channel, they also produce videos, posters and other materials for public service and education purposes. They do photography, animation and graphic design for their videos, as well as write and record original music for their projects.

All the prisoners working in Jefftown are serving time for violent crimes.

"I have a purpose in life now," said prisoner Ronald Clements, who has been serving time since he was 17. "Any way I can give back something to the community in a positive way after the negative things I've done, that's what I want to do."

The prisoners just finished making a video about opioid abuse, which they said was one of their better collective efforts.

"We all gather around the table with ideas, write them down and work on how we can make them a reality," Clements said. "We love the challenge to put something together."

Prisoner Jeremiah Johnson has provided music for many projects with his guitar playing and singing.

"It really opened up the possibilities of what we could do because before they were limited to working with non-royalty music, so we didn't have to worry about possibly having to pay fees," Jefftown Supervisor Dan Krachey said. "One thing we stress is being honest about how we feel work on a project is going. If we see something that we don't think works, then we say so and work to get it right."

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Funding for the operation of Jefftown is provided by the JCCC Inmate Canteen Fund. Krachey said they have five channels, two of which run things like movies and three for educational programs.

"Part of our job is to help keep down violence in the facility," Krachey said. "Some studies have shown that having a program like ours can help reduce the potential for violence by as much as 60 percent. We post when we have openings at Jefftown and it's a popular job to get, but we check them out thoroughly — and I'd say 95 percent of those that I've worked with here are people we can trust."

The prisoners do not have access to the internet. They work with technology that, while not necessarily state-of-the-art, is fairly close to it, Krachey said.

"My hope is that if and when these guys get out, they are able to work in a production operation or TV station," Krachey added.

"A lot of the equipment we're working with now wasn't even developed when we came into prison," said prisoner Derek Clouse, who has been in prison since he was 15. "By working in Jefftown, we feel we're keeping up with things on the outside world."