Inmates donate rock sign to Empire Elementary School

Nevada State Prison inmates are helping Empire Elementary students boost their school spirit.

"It really adds quite a bit of class to our school," said Principal Pat Carpenter. "It's beautiful."

Inmates delivered a sandstone carving of the school's name and mascot, the mustang, on Tuesday morning. The carving was made by the prison's rock-carving crew.

It was the latest gift in a series of donations adding up to $3,200 for projects, including new playground equipment, from the prison to the school as a partner in education.

"And we're just getting started," said James Baca, associate warden of programs at Nevada State Prison.

A group of about four inmates worked on the rock carving for two weeks, using only a chisel and hammer and without the aid of a stencil to complete the project.

Members of the prison's maintenance crew delivered it to the school.

"It feels good to do anything to help people. It gives us a sense of accomplishment, and there's not much of that on the inside," said inmate Jeremy Pelas, 30, who helped install the rock sign. "It builds a little self-worth. And to get outside the prison walls, that's the bonus of it all."

Although a prison and a school may seem an unlikely partnership, Carpenter said she can see a link between them.

"There are many parents in our school district who are in prison," she explained. "Hopefully, these kinds of things will keep that connection strong. They're still moms and dads, and they are extremely important to their children."

And she doesn't have any difficulty accepting a gift from the inmates or donations raised through the prison's annual craft fair.

"They're very human, and everybody makes mistakes," she said. "That doesn't have any bearing on what they can do in the future."

It may also help the prisoners gain restitution.

"It gives them a sense of giving back to the community," Baca said. "It's part of healing themselves after what they've done in their crimes."

The donation to Empire Elementary is the sixth community project the rock-carving group has completed, including carving planets for Western Nevada Community College's planetary walkway from the campus to the observatory.

Carpenter will hold a ceremony to explain the carving to students at the school and urge them to take care of it.

Contact Teri Vance at or at 881-1272.


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