Recycle Force providing opportunity to high-risk offenders in central Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Recycle Force President Gregg Keesling knows all about tearing down television sets and electronics for recycling. He’s learning more about gunshot wounds and insurance for his employees.

“It is fairly common for people in our program to be shot and return back to work. We’ve had people return the next day,” said Keesling. “I’ve learned what a through-and-through is. A guy was shot in the calf and the bullet went through and through and he came back to work the next day. It is fairly common for people to be shot in the shoulder and the arm and take a few days off and come back.”

Keesling has been schooled about gun and knife wounds and probation violations and recidivism on his factory floor as Recycle Force specializes in hiring high-risk offenders at $9 an hour in an attempt to keep those under court order out of trouble and with enough money in their pockets to pay their fees and make a living while they’re making a new life.

As of Thursday morning, there were 1,424 Department of Correction parolees, 9,788 probationers, 3,050 Community Corrections post-conviction clients and 1,060 pre-trial defendants under court order but not incarcerated in Marion County.

All of them are expected to follow the rules and hopefully work.

“I had a choice to either go to prison or go to Duvall work release center so I chose to go to Duvall because who want to go to prison? Not me,” said Sanford Bannerman. “Now I’m A1…team lead now.”

Out on the factory floor in the 1200 block of Roosevelt Avenue Bannerman and his co-workers wear gloves and protective glasses and use hammers to break apart discarded electronics.

“I’m in TV land where we pretty much take apart TVs,” said Brent Smith who spent 26 years in prison and now destroys the type of televisions he used to watch while incarcerated.

“You know the mindset we have in the joint where we was gonna fake it until we make it, but here you can’t always do that because that’s a real live thing and not something you gonna get and then get by with because you have to actually do something because you have responsibilities now not like when you was in the joint.”

Sitting in the break room at Recycle Force with the floor crew is like attending a reunion of retired NFL players as the men compare battle wounds from their careers out on the streets.

“This is from a straight razor right here someone from the hood…someone tried to cut off my whole hand ‘cause they didn’t get what they want,” said Bannerman, pointing out a healed over scar on his left hand. “Right here is where a guy tried to set me on fire, my own brother tried to set me on fire.  Right here and right here and right here is from where I tried to put my whole hand through a door ‘cause my brother wouldn’t let me in the house and I paid rent there.

“I was a bad guy back in those days.”

Bannerman’s co-workers nodded around the table.

“I got shot in my hand back in 2013,” said Kentrelle Kendall. “It was through and through. I been jumped to where I had my jaw fractured and a broken faceplate. I been through a lot honestly. I gotta a lot of scars and stuff.”

Kendall said he is enrolled at a trade school to become an automotive technician.

“Right now I’m serving here on community corrections, I got two years on house arrest,” he said. “The last time I been incarcerated I was in there and I just felt like I was going backwards in life and I knew where I wanted to be in life and I knew if I wanted to get to that point I had to change a lot of ways that I would go about in ways in my mindset and what I wanted to do.”

An employee who would like to be known simply as “Trey” said that he had just been released from prison this year when a friend called him up to party on his 24th birthday in late July.

“I was going down the wrong path, I was in the streets and unfortunately I almost lost my life,” said “Trey” as he recalled being jumped when arriving at the friend’s house. “I take two or three steps back, I get to running and he’s shooting at me like, ‘Boom, boom, boom, boom,’ and he hit me on like the third or fourth shot.

“He hit me on my arm right here,” said “Trey,” tracing a scar that raced up his right forearm. “It entered right here, it opened up this up like I couldn’t see none of my tattoos when I first got hit, it was hanging, he broke my bone, he hit a main artery and it came out right here.”

“Trey” said his spent his birthday in intensive care and reported for work two days later, desperate not to lose the job that offered his best hope of escaping the street.

“It was my first week here,” he said. “With the help of Recycle Force, I mean, they done changed my life like all the way around like, I used to be one of them guys that you didn’t wanna see on the streets cuz like if I’m coming, there’s trouble man.”

Adrian Wright had trouble recently, the kind that could have resulted in a violation to send him back to prison.

“You still got them old skeletons that come back from the closet come and find you like I just got into a situation this weekend and I got jumped over just a family situation.”

Wright said he tried to act as a peacemaker between two sides.

“When they swung, I swung, and they jumped me.”

Wright and the men on the floor realize how hard it is to stay straight when old friends and even family don’t have their best interests at heart.

“Hanging out with the wrong individuals, peer associations, has gotten me into inconveniences,” said Byron Brown who has racked up several violations and jail sentences only to return to Recycle Force as the leader of its graffiti abatement team. “You come to work knowing you have an obligation every day, to your employer or whoever you have an obligation with, you wanna be on time, you wanna have good standings in that area.”

Keesling said his program has been part of a national study that showed Recycle Force employees make more money and serve less subsequent jail time than offenders who opt for other jobs or no work at all.

One of Keesling’s longtime employees will accompany him to Washington, D.C., in November to be present as those study results are released by the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.

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