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August 10, 2014 09:56 PM

Benefit Behind Bars

When disaster struck this summer, the communities of Canton and Wessington Springs received help from across the state - including an unlikely place.

"It still makes a person feel good being able to help other people," South Dakota prison inmate David Konickson said.

Konickson and Jose Bardales were two of the South Dakota prisoners who helped with the disaster response in June.

Konickson, who is serving time for felony DUI, helped sandbag near Dakota Dunes. Bardales is serving time for a felony drug conviction and not only helped sandbag in Union County but also helped clean up a playground in Canton.

"I feel good about it, just being out there helping them. I know there were quite a lot of people out there; they thanked us a lot," Bardales said.

"Those guys are in here for mistakes that they have made but they also, I think, find it very rewarding to go out and assist in communities with people that are in need," South Dakota State Penitentiary Associate Warden Troy Ponto said.

It's not unusual for inmates to help on the ground in communities that have been hit by a disaster, but what is unique is what the inmates did after they helped out in those communities.

The prison held a special fundraiser for Canton and Wessington Springs - raising more than $1,700 for each community.

"It's the largest one we've had," Ponto said.

For the past four years the prison has been holding regular fundraisers for various charities. Inmates can buy pizza or chicken from Pizza Ranch and a portion of the proceeds go to charity. But this summer the penitentiary held an extra fundraiser just for those towns hit by disaster.

"There are a lot of people here have hearts and that's how they do it through the donations. It shows they still care about the community," Konickson said.

The inmates pay for the food with money they make by working jobs inside the prison and many of those jobs only pay 25 cents an hour.

"So when you look at how much they get per day that's quite a bit of money they spend that goes toward food, or toward the charity," Ponto said.

One pizza is about $10 or one-week's pay. Inmates say it's worth it and prison officials say it shows that even though the inmates are behind bars they can still offer a helping hand.

"I think it says the inmates do care. I think a lot of our guys are in here and are trying to do things better for themselves to get back in society and be a productive citizens," Ponto said.

Citizens who may have made mistakes but are also trying to make a difference.

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