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Inmates prepare turkeys for the poor

November 25, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- As they have for more than a decade, state prison inmates in Hagerstown cooked more than 700 turkeys to be served on Thanksgiving Day to people in need in Baltimore.

The turkeys prepared earlier this month will be the main course for 40,000 dinners served during the annual Bea Gaddy's Thanks for Giving dinner in Baltimore, which provides a holiday meal for thousands of poor and homeless people.

"Other than that, we don't know where we would get the turkeys cooked," said Connie Bass, director of the Bea Gaddy foundation that organizes the dinner.

"It absolutely helps us to host the dinner," she said.

Maryland Correctional Institution inmates working for Maryland Correctional Enterprises (MCE), the prison industry arm of the Division of Correction, deboned and cooked the turkeys, which then were delivered to Baltimore.

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The MCE meat plant where the turkeys were prepared is at MCI south of Hagerstown. About 80 inmates are employed by the meat plant, which offers a meat-cutting apprenticeship in conjunction with the Maryland Department of Education, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Mark Vernarelli said.

Inmates working in the meat plant have been involved in the turkey preparation for Bea Gaddy's dinner for more than 15 years, Vernarelli said.

Bea Gaddy, described on the foundation's Web site as a leading advocate for the homeless and poor, held her first Thanksgiving dinner in 1981, feeding 39 people off the proceeds of a winning lottery ticket she bought. After Gaddy's death in 2001, the foundation continued the dinner tradition.

The meal will include turkey and all the trimmings, Bass said.

MCE did not charge the foundation for cooking the turkeys, but the inmates were paid their normal wage, Vernarelli said.

More than 2,500 offenders participated in the MCE program during the past fiscal year, Vernarelli said. The workers received 2.13 million hours of career training, which prison officials hope will improve their employment prospects upon release and reduce idleness in the prison setting, he said.

A regional manager for Maryland Correctional Enterprises in 2007 told The Herald-Mail that many of the workers at the meat plant eventually become meat processors upon their release.

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