Inmates learn job skills restoring old fire truck

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HUNTSVILLE, Texas (KBTX) -- A piece of Huntsville, Texas history is in the process of being restored by inmates at a nearby prison.

Fire Engine No. 3 was in service back in 1947, and through the Ellis Bus Repair program, it's being brought back to life.

From painting to buffing, everyday is a chance for inmates at the Ellis Unit Prison to learn a new skill.

"You put in a real good day's work and it gives you a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day," said Michael Riley.

He's been living behind bars for 19 years, but Riley says the work program has been a real positive.

"A place like this can make you extremely unsocial, and coming out here with everybody, it makes you more social and you work as a team," said Riley.

While many in the program work to restore run down buses from smaller school districts around town, Riley and the "Special Projects" team have spent the last month and a half giving new life to the 68-year-old fire engine.

The Huntsville Fire Department hosted fundraisers to raise the money to restore the old truck.

They were able to pay a fraction of the restoration costs by linking up with the Ellis Bus Repair program.

"To do a restoration of this magnitude in the free world is gonna cost you $60-$80,000. Here, with the fire department providing their own paint and other things, its costing around the $6,000 mark," said Josh Silcox, plant manager of Ellis Bus Repair.

It's 1 of 33 on-the-job training programs offered at prisons across the state, providing hands-on job skills to defenders. However, the goal is for them to walk away with much more.

"We also teach them the soft skills. The work ethic, getting up and getting to work on time, being able to listen to a supervisor, get along with coworkers and produce a quality product," explained Assistant Director for Texas Correctional Industries, Kevin Von Rosenberg.

Lessons that are clearly not lost on inmates like Riley.

"I've not been the best person my whole life, but I come out here and learn to be a better person," said Riley. "Working gets you out of the gang mentalities and out of the bad things that go on in a place like this."

Which makes it a win-win for both the defenders and those living in the free world.

"I would like for the community to be able to see that we are more than just thugs and criminals," Riley said. "That we are learning something in here and that we can take that and be a positive part of society."

Fire Engine No. 3 will be given back to the city in all its original glory by the beginning of October.

It will be used in parades and other city events for kids to ride in and enjoy.

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