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From service to freedom: Inmates can shorten jail term by serving community

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Erica Dischino / Tribune Elijah Gomez, left, and Martin Bravo put on their reflective vests before riding in the recycling pickup truck at Kandiyohi County Community Services in Willmar. Multiple trucks take nonviolent offenders who volunteer with the program to pick up recycling at locations throughout the Willmar and Atwater areas.2 / 10
Erica Dischino / Tribune Martin Bravo, left, and Elijah Gomez pick up recycling during their volunteer hours March 20 in Willmar. Curbside recycling pickup is the largest program run through Kandiyohi County Community Services and in 2017, the program had more than 2,000 households participate in curbside pickup. 3 / 10
Erica Dischino / Tribune Martin Bravo, who has been in jail since early January and plans to be released in April, looks out the window while riding in the recycling pickup March 20. Bravo is a part of the Sentencing to Service program, which could allow him the opportunity to be released early from jail, dependent upon his eligibility, by volunteering with the recycling program through Kandiyohi County Community Services.4 / 10
Erica Dischino / Tribune Martin Bravo’s protective glasses are dusted in snow while sorting through recycling during his volunteer hours March 20 in Willmar. Non-violent offenders who volunteer with Kandiyohi County Community Services pick up recycling no matter the weather conditions. 5 / 10
Erica Dischino / Tribune Elijah Gomez, left, and Martin Bravo leave the Kandiyohi County Jail March 20 to volunteer for the recycling program at Kandiyohi County Community Service in Willmar. The program allows nonviolent offenders to either work off their fines or provides offenders who partake in the Sentencing to Service program an opportunity to be released early from jail if they are eligible.6 / 10
Erica Dischino / Tribune Elijah Gomez heads back in the truck after walking from house to house picking up recycling March 20 in Willmar. Picking up recycling is one of the few times Gomez is able to be outside, since he is currently an inmate at the Kandiyohi County Jail. 7 / 10
Erica Dischino / Tribune Martin Bravo puts cardboard into the recycling truck March 20 in Willmar. 8 / 10
Erica Dischino / Tribune Elijah Gomez sorts through recycling during his volunteer hours March 20 in Willmar. “I’m so proud because my two boys always look for the recycling. They want to recycle because they know their dad is the one picking it up,” Gomez said. “I’m so blessed and it gives me the motivation to keep going.” 9 / 10
Erica Dischino / Tribune Martin Bravo, left, and Elijah Gomez work together to sort through recycling during their volunteer hours March 20 in Willmar. Bravo and Gomez have formed a strong bond since they volunteer together multiple days of the week. 10 / 10

WILLMAR — For inmates Elijah Gomez and Martin Bravo, picking up recycling from homes in the Willmar area is more than just volunteer work — it gives them a purpose.

"It reminds me of what I'm working towards — what life is like outside of jail," Gomez said.

Gomez and Bravo both volunteer with the Kandiyohi County Community Service Program, which is run in partnership with Kandiyohi County Community Corrections. The program allows nonviolent offenders to either work off their fines or provides offenders who partake in the Sentencing to Service program an opportunity to be released early from jail if they are eligible according to Nancy Naujokas, assistant director of Kandiyohi County Community Corrections. Offenders participate in the program by choice if they initially are sentenced by a judge and abide by certain rules and regulations.

"If you're in jail, it's a privilege to be a part of the program," said Bravo, who has been at the county jail since early January and expects to be released in April.

Brian Nelson, program coordinator of the Kandiyohi County Community Service Program, said workers collect recycling from Tuesday through Friday across eight different areas in Willmar and Atwater. The offenders are picked up in a van at either the Kandiyohi County Jail or the Kandiyohi County Courthouse. They then head out with a crew member from Kandiyohi County Community Service to visit designated locations to retrieve the recycling.

Curbside recycling pickup is the largest program run through Kandiyohi County Community Service. Nelson said that in 2017, the program had more than 2,000 households participate in curbside pickup. Other Kandiyohi County Community Service programs range from restoring local nonprofit buildings to maintaining and growing food for the Kandiyohi County Food Shelf in Willmar.

"Giving back to the community is a blessing," said Gomez, who has been in jail since late January. "We have a chance to be out here and prove to our loved ones that we can make a difference. We can make a change."

Erica Dischino

Erica Dischino is the photographer for the West Central Tribune. Hailing from northern New Jersey, she graduated from Ithaca College in central New York with a bachelors in Journalism and Photography. Follow her on Instagram.

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