By Todd Wels
Triplicate staff writer
Toughened inmate hands begin to shape the wood at just the right angle.
They move with speed and precision born of practice and skill.
The inmate works quickly and efficiently, not talking to the other inmates in the room.
He lifts the wood to the light to make sure the curve is just right, running his fingers ever so gently over the point.
He smiles with glee and satisfaction and then attaches it to the toy train set he is building.
For the third year in a row, prisoners at the Alder Camp work camp are building toys for needy children in Del Norte Count and Orick.
Alder Camp is a minimum security work camp located just south of Klamath. The 110 inmates there are considered to be very low-risk, and often assist California Department of Forestry personnel in fighting forest fires and maintaining trails.
This is just one of the ways that these inmates help our particular county, CDF Division Chief Bob Richardson said Wednesday.
According to Capt. David Dikes, inmates and officials at Alder Camp hope to create at least 200 toys this year, which will be distributed to needy children through Child Protective Services in Del Norte County, and through a program implemented in schools in Orick.
Last year, inmates at the camp created just over 130 toys.
The toys themselves range from intricately detailed wooden trains and airplanes to puzzles and rag dolls.
We were having a hard time coming up with toys for girls until an inmate came up with the idea of the rag dolls, which are hand-sewn and painted, Richardson said. That same inmate also volunteered to sew them together.
Another inmate was busy creating an intricate dollhouse, complete with a trellace and windows.
The camps commander, Lt. Paul Moran, said inmates have also contributed many ideas for toy creation.
Among one of the suggestions made was the creation of a monster truck with large wheels, which required inmates to hand-cut treads into the tiny tires.
Many inmates said they enjoyed the work.
Oh yeah, its a lot of fun, said inmate Russell Waters as he sanded down a piece of wood for use as part of a train set. Knowing what its for makes it all worthwhile.
The quality of the toys is foremost on the mind of both the inmates and the staff.
Inmate Jeff Busch sat in a corner of the workshop, gazing intently through a large magnifying glass at the wooden puzzle blocks on the bench before him.
This one, Ive been on for about four days, he said, as he gently applied an extra-fine paintbrush to one of the animals depicted on the puzzle blocks.
Its stress-free and its for the kids, he said.
Though he agreed that helping local children was a top concern, Moran said the projects have a more immediate effect on the inmates.
You know whats more important? The self-esteem it builds in these guys, he said. The fact that he found a skill and ability he had not known he had before.
For inmate Eli Telles, that ability is painting.
I enjoy it a lot, he said, as he painted an image of cartoon character Speedy Gonzales onto what would eventually be a coat rack. Just doing these images; art is cool and its for the kids.
The toys will be collected by CPS and Orick school personnel and distributed in time for Christmas.