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Where Angels Gather: Incarcerated Individuals Across the State Create Benches for Shelton Memorial Park

June 9, 2021

By Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications and Yvonne Brumfield, Public Information Officer, Washington Corrections Center
Three men standing behind a bench

From left to right Shelton Memorial Park groundskeeper Aaron Whittenburg, Washington Corrections Center Shop Supervisor Mike Curtis, and Shelton Memorial Park groundskeeper Mason Gitchel (Don Carlstad, Washington Corrections Center)

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SHELTON – A child’s death is one of the most painful things a parent can experience.

Grieving parents who have lost a child now have a peaceful place to sit and contemplate, thanks to the work of some incarcerated individuals from prisons all over Washington state.

Incarcerated individuals who work in Washington Corrections Center (WCC) shops built two benches for the Shelton Memorial Park’s new section to memorialize infants and children who have died. Park officials designed the new section-- known as “Babyland 2,” in fall of 2020.

Park officials picked up the completed benches from Washington Corrections Center April 15. The benches will be installed as soon as fencing in the new section is complete.

The park’s original “Babyland,” for children who have passed away filled up and park officials designed a second section called Babyland 2. Dustee Sage, manager of Shelton Memorial Park, says these sections of the park tend to get more visitors than other sections of the park. Apart from Memorial Day, parents visit the park on what would have been their children’s birthdays, on other holidays and often have picnics in memory of their children.

“We thought it was important to provide families a comfortable area to sit and relax. Losing a child is the saddest thing in the world,” Sage said. “It’s awesome the community can come together to provide things like this.”

“Our incarcerated workers took a lot of pride in making these extra special benches because they would be in the children’s section,” said WCC Plant Manager Don Carlstad. “They truly appreciate being able to give back to the community, especially through a meaningful project such as this.”

Incarcerated individuals have made several benches throughout Shelton Memorial Park, Sage said, including the benches that are in the park’s original Babyland section.

A Statewide Effort

The benches came about from the work from incarcerated individuals and community organizations from across the state.

Incarcerated individuals at WCC cut all the materials and assembled the benches. Incarcerated individuals at WCC also drew silhouettes of angels featured on the armrests and back supports.

WCC staff sent benches to Stafford Creek Corrections Center near Aberdeen, where incarcerated individuals working in its Correctional Industries wood and metal shops applied a special weatherproof powder coating to the benches.

Western Steel & Supply in Aberdeen donated the steel to build the benches.

Stafford Creek staff shipped the benches back to WCC for finishing touches. Memorial Memorial Park staff picked up the benches at WCC when they were complete.

Park officials expressed their gratitude.

“The entire cemetery staff is overwhelmed by DOC’s generosity,” Pogreba said. “The benches are absolutely incredible and the workmanship is A-1. I understand that at least one of the incarcerated individuals took extra time to include his own creativity. I believe the four angels welded on each bench are his work. In a nutshell, our hearts are full.”

How the Project Came Together

Susan Pogerba, a volunteer at Shelton Memorial Park initially contacted WCC with a request for the benches.

WCC Facilities Manager Dwight Johnson, didn’t think twice about fulfilling it.

“I am glad we were given the opportunity to provide the benches for such a worthwhile community project and appreciate the teamwork and collaboration of all parties that contributed to the effort along the way,” Johnson said.

Maintenance staff jumped into action. WCC Maintenance Mechanic Dave Knigge, WCC Maintenance Supervisor Mike Curtis, WCC Maintenance Supervisor, assisted Don Carlstad, WCC Plant Manager, in overseeing the project.

WCC staff reported even though progress was slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, facilities got back to work and completed the project as soon as they could.

“In a time of loss and uncertainty, it is a joy to see DOC facilities, staff, and the incarcerated population alike, donate time and attention back to the community, without hesitation,” Carlstad said. “May the benches help bring comfort to those families that face such tragic loss from losing a child. Our hearts go out to these individuals.”

About Shelton Memorial Park:

Shelton Memorial Park is a non-profit organization managed by Trustees of the Shelton Cemetery Association. There are about 13,000 people interred at the 42-acre park.