Shakopee prison inmates serve time while serving others

A group of inmates from the Shakopee prison wrapped Christmas presents as part of the Challenge Incarceration program.

A group of women offenders are serving their time as well as serving others as part of a restorative justice opportunity. Some inmates from the Shakopee prison had a chance to leave their cells and wrap Christmas gifts for children of inmates across the state.

Marching in single file, nine female offenders from the Shakopee prison entered the community room at the Roseville Salvation Army ready to follow orders for Monday's outing. The special visit to wrap Christmas gifts alongside other volunteers from the community is all possible because these inmates are working on changing their behaviors.

“Being treated like you’re not a number anymore—it’s really rewarding,” said Misty Dyrdahl, an inmate.

“My future is much brighter than what it was,” said Justice Sandness, an inmate.

Sandness and Dyrdahl are among the small group who were granted the privilege of leaving their cells. They're part of the Shakopee prison system's Challenge Incarceration program, a military-style bootcamp that incorporates strict routines, daily exercise and education partnered with restorative justice programs, like this one, that allows inmates to be released out of their sentences early.

“As much as 30% more likely to avoid coming back to prison for folks who come through our Challenge Incarceration program—the restorative justice opportunity certainly contribute to that,” said Brian Collins, the associate warden of the Shakopee prison.

The women who are part of the program are low-level offenders, nearly all were caught up in the drug epidemic and couldn't shake their addiction, resulting in drug crimes.

But leading a clean life is possible. Just ask Nancy Loehein. Last year, she was part of the program as an inmate wrapping Christmas gifts that her children would receive because she would be behind bars. Now she's sober, going back to school and working full-time.

“Something in me started changing,” said Loehein. “It wasn’t about the time cut anymore it was things started clicking—I don’t want to live like that anymore—I want something different.”

The women and other volunteers from the community spent all day wrapping hundreds of presents. They will be delivered to the children of inmates just in time for Christmas.