By Katie Urbaszewski / The Houma Courer
HOUMA, La. — There are some talented people incarcerated at the Terrebonne Parish jail.
Carpenters, cooks and sheetrock finishers are among the tradesmen convicted of crimes in the parish and sentenced to do time locally. And after they're vetted and found to be nonviolent offenders, the Sheriff's Office will oftentimes put them to work.
Nearly every day last month, for example, trusties performed tasks for parish agencies and nonprofit groups throughout the parish, including putting up walls in the Village East Fire Department's bathrooms, jackhammering concrete at the Bayou Cane Fire station and putting up a fence at Authement Park in Houma's Mechanicville community.
"A lot of them come in with trade experience," Sheriff Jerry Larpenter said. "It's unfortunate for them that they have to give that trade back to the parish for free. ... Some of these guys in prison, they're talented. They just don't know how to apply themselves in society. ... It's my feeling, if you stay in jail, you've got to earn your keep."
Trusties cook between 750 and 850 meals a day for the elderly to be shipped to Terrebonne Council on Aging locations and to homes of those who can't make the trip, said council Director Diana Edmonson.
Larpenter approached her in 1996 about letting his trusties do the cooking for the council in their jail kitchen, located on the third floor of the Terrebonne Parish Courthouse. Since then, she's been able to double the number of meals they make with the money she's saved on labor, Edmonson said.
"They handle not only the cooking of the meals but the plating of the meals," she said. "The number of plates to each center has to be correct. When we get to Montegut, we must have 35 meals. It's a science. It's precise. They do a really, really good job. ... They start at 1 in the morning, and they have to be cooked by 5 (a.m.)," she said.
Edmonson said she's proud of the quality of the meals they cook.
"They adhere to strict dietary guidelines for people over 50: no salt, heart-healthy meal," she said. "But it's still Cajun cooking. It's cooked with a lot of love. They want it to taste good. They want the elderly to have a good meal, they really do."
Edmonson works with one inmate who helps oversee the cooking trusties. The last inmate she worked with died while in the program. The one she works with now has a son in the Nicholls State University John Folse Culinary Institute.
"They're all somebody's child," she said. "And they're all so polite with the elderly. They try very hard to please us."
She said she doesn't ask what they're in for.
"I try not to bring anything up unless they do. ... When we first started, one of the young men, he was so remorseful," she said. "They've been isolated from their families. ... I just pray for them and hope they can reunite, because people make mistakes."