Offenders clean up cemetery; warden says ‘We wanted to get in here and do the right thing’

Offenders clean up cemetery; warden says ‘We wanted to get in here and do the right thing’
Inmates at Dixon Correctional worked to clean up Nick Wax Cemetery in East Baton Rouge Parish. (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Every few months, crews from the Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson, La. spend days at a time cleaning up graveyards throughout East Baton Rouge Parish, but the job they tackled Monday, July 22 was special; it’s been the center of grief for a family for years.

Most people would recognize the sound of a weed eater or chain saw anywhere. At the Nick Wax Cemetery on a Monday morning, it’s also the sound of years of neglect being chopped down to limbs and hauled off by the armload.

“We wanted to get in here and do the right thing,” said Jason Kent, warden at Dixon Correctional Institute.

For decades now, trees have stopped Sharon Norman at the gate. The lack of attention to the cemetery was highlighted in early July. She called the weeds and tall trees a hindrance. Since then, the condition of the cemetery has become a sort of personal project for the inmates and Warden Kent at Dixon Correctional.

“When we first saw this story, it kind of tugged at me,” Kent said. “No family should be burdened with not being able to visit and remember their loved ones.”

Monday was day one of the cleanup. It might not seem much has improved, but in just a few hours, the sun got a chance to shine on the vaults and flowers that have attempted to stand the test of time were uncovered.

Graves are now visible at Nick Wax Cemetery after inmates from Dixon Correctional worked to remove overgrown vegetation.
Graves are now visible at Nick Wax Cemetery after inmates from Dixon Correctional worked to remove overgrown vegetation. (Source: WAFB)

“It’s a privilege to come out here and help out,” said Alvin Franklin, an inmate at the jail.

You could barely see him as he pushes through the weeds, but pretty soon, he won’t even be in that jumpsuit. Franklin is going home any day now, but he wanted to spend his final days sweating it out for others.

“I felt like it’s time I give back to the community since I’ve been a bad boy,” Franklin said.

This isn’t Franklin’s first cemetery cleanup, but he says it’s right up there with the worst.

“They let it get out of order,” he said. “You can barely see the graves.”

Now, you can walk through half of the cemetery, thanks to the inmates.

“Maybe it could be my kinfolks in here. Who knows?” said Toledo Gettridge, another inmate.

It’s a tough job, but the careful dusting off of a grave makes this cleanup special.

“I’m hoping that they look at us differently, knowing that we did a good deed, because most people look at us as being hardcore criminals. Some of us are in here for a simple mistake that we made,” Gettridge said.

“Giving back instead of always taking is not good. I feel good to be doing something good,” Franklin said.

The warden says crews will be out there working until the cemetery is in tip top shape. They expect to finish in the next two to three weeks.

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