Louisiana residents donate money to buy school supplies

By Colin Campo, Courier

HOUMMA, Los Angeles (AP) – Fourteen inmates at Tribune Parish Prison have donated their own money to buy school supplies for four elementary schools.

Amounts ranged from $20 to $500. Sheriff Tim Swenet said the prisoners had surprisingly donated about $1,200.

“I am so proud of every guest who developed and participated in this amazing project,” Soignet said. “The perpetrators of the show have made great strides not only in their work but in their personal growth. I understand that TWP doesn’t work with everyone, but this is a great example of what can be achieved when we work together to make our community a better place for everyone. These guys single-handedly decided to give back and make a difference, I think they should be commended for their actions.”

Donors were allowed to pack up supplies on August 20, and Soignet held a barbecue for them in honor of their generosity. Warden Rusty Hornsby and Assistant Warden Jacob Fonseca have delivered supplies to principals in Upper Little Caillou, Legion Park, Montegut and Acadian Elementary.

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“I was lying in bed on a Saturday about three or four weeks ago, and I was talking ‘to God, you know, asking, ‘What can I do to help someone?'” said Everett Arsment, who began driving by writing a letter to Soignet. “Immediately he said Terrebonne had had a lot of success with Ida and said a lot of the kids here don’t have that much.”

Arsment, 52, of Thibodaw, has been a minister for 28 years and works as a chef in the offshore oil field. He pledged $350 and recruited a prison trustee named Troy Hunt to take the letter to others.

Arement, like other prisoners, cannot travel freely around the prison. Hunt cleans up the facility, so he has greater access. Hunt said he felt it was the right thing to do since he had kids himself and thought that was a good reason.

“It brought it to my attention,” said Hunt, who did not participate in the work editing program and did not donate but did help distribute the letter. “I spoke with the captain. I said, “Can we agree to this?” And they agreed to it.”

Roger Tibodo, 34, of Labadeville, works as a cook at a chain of restaurants in Houma and donated $150.

Tibodo said he’s been a practicing Muslim for six years now, and imprisonment has given him time to reflect on life. He said that money can be a distraction, and God wants people to give it back.

“I’m just trying to make a small impact,” Tibodo said. “I don’t know anyone else, but I can speak for myself. You have helped destroy society, so sometimes you have to reverse your karma and try to fix what you have spoiled.”

Ron Lewis, 27, gave $500. He earns about $600 a week working in the machine shop, but that’s before prison takes the cuts and taxes.

When asked if the $600 made his two-and-a-half week net pay, without swinging, Lewis shrugged his shoulders and said, “Yes.”

“My family, we didn’t have much, so we were relying on, like, people to make donations for us to get back to school. So I thought about it and said ‘That’s cool, man,'” he said. “That’s something, you know, I’m happy to spend my money on because …we must make sure they have the things they need to learn.”

Lewis said that before entering prison he worked in a garbage truck and sold drugs, and he was turned away by the latter. He loves his new job and has two months left before he is released.

He said he and other inmates were planning to make more donations, so he plans to stay in touch with them once he’s out to continue fundraising.

Heath Cutts, 32, of Leesville, has been doing sandblasting as part of his launch program, but is looking to go a little further from the beach. Donate $20 towards the supplies campaign.

Katz has been in prison for about three years and was recently transferred to Tribune. He said that after his mother’s death, he started taking drugs, which caused problems with the law.

Cutts said he was working out at the gym when Arsment approached him about his fundraiser.

“I asked him where the pen was,” said Cutts. “Right now, I mean, I don’t know if my son would do it without because I was here. … So I didn’t want another kid to feel it.”

He said that all this was done by the prisoners, and senior officials were involved only after the money had been pledged. Kat said he hopes to show people that just because they made the wrong decisions to end up where they are, they aren’t bad people.

According to the Sheriff, other inmates who have donated are Michael Dover, Steve Calle, Andrew Scott, Aaron Sharer, Joshua Johnson, Bobby Nelton, Nicholas Gilmore, Lawrence Tolliver, Derek Thompson and Robin Marshall Jr.

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