Arkansas Correctional Industries cut the ribbon early Thursday morning in White Hall on a newly constructed memorial sign commemorating veterans who served in the Vietnam War, dedicating it to those who served in the war and currently serve in their communities.
Located on the northbound side of Interstate 530, just off Exit 34, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Sign stands on display in front of the nation’s flag adorned with metal cutouts of airplanes and helicopters, a helmet and boots frequently worn in combat, as well as a row of official seals representing the multiple branches of the U.S. military.
From start to finish, the all-black sign was designed, drafted and fabricated by offenders currently serving sentences in the Arkansas Department of Correction. Some of the offenders held personal ties to the war through family members, with some of them having served personally in the war at the time.
Arkansas Correctional Industries has been working to teach offenders a marketable job skill that can be used upon release, according to ACI administrator, Richard Cooper.
There are currently approximately 500 inmates working under ACI’s eight different programs. They are skilled in creating seating and furniture, athletic equipment, coffee and tea pots, garments, janitorial supplies, vinyl products and signs, in addition to providing services such as toilet paper operations, vehicle restoration, upholstery, and metal fabrication.
White Hall Mayor Noel Foster, who was present at the dedication ceremony, chuckled at just how indestructible the items made by the inmates are when he stood to address the crowd that had gathered under the tent housing the festivities.
“I think if a tornado blew through my office, that desk would still be there,” joked Foster.
However, Cooper emphasized that it is not only the organization’s mission to teach the inmates valuable skills and provide individuals with well-made furniture and other items, but it is also imperative to show them the value in giving back to the community. According to Cooper, it was the process of making the sign that gave the inmates the satisfaction of giving back to the community and its veterans.
“It was easy to choose this project,” Cooper said. “We have direct correlation with vets in the department and there is a very, very strong connection to the project. This was a labor of love … Really, a labor of appreciation.”
Among the list of Cooper’s acknowledgements in relation to the new sign were Mayor Foster, the city of White Hall, Darryl Shumaker of the Disabled American Veterans and Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, and ACI Director Wendy Kelley, who were all in attendance to witness the act of appreciation.
“Our vets make wonderful correctional officers,” Kelley said, playfully encouraging other veterans that they have a home at the Arkansas Department of Correction before thanking them for their service. “Thank you.”
Shumaker, who oversaw most the operations during the process and played a major role in the completion of the memorial sign, was noted as the “most important person” present during the dedication by Cooper.
“My thanks goes out to Steve Strong, Richard Cooper, the city of White Hall, Mayor Noel Foster, and Jeff Jones,” Shumaker said.
“I want to thank the mayor and the city for the partnership. We couldn’t have done it without them” Cooper said during the last part of his speech. “I also want to thank the offender population who did the work, and the coordination of everyone who helped.”
Members of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association and other veterans in the area joined in front of the sign for pictures and fellowship as the ribbon was cut, just before returning to their motorcycles to enjoy their newfound appreciation spot.
“I feel honored to be able to give back to so many vets who have given back to us willingly,” Cooper said.