“You have the old scared straight program,” Ivey said. “To some degree, this is part of that.”
Larry Lawton, a former convict turned life coach, is opposed to the chain gang idea.
“Chain gangs send a bad message about our county,” said Lawton, who is based in Palm Bay. “I don’t think people want to come to this county as a tourist or a beach person and see people in chains.”
A campaign to help inmates with drug addiction, which is a contributing factor in criminal activity, is a more productive use of the department’s time and resources, Lawton said.
Ivey said the inmates were receptive to the idea when he presented it.
“Before I even got through talking about the program, I had people volunteering,” he said.
Jeffrey Alan Rhoades volunteered. He was arrested for stealing his aunt’s purse in July 2012. He was convicted and sentenced to probation, but tested positive for drugs in December, and was sentenced to serve 270 days in jail.
“We’re just here today to clean up the park, help out, you know, make sure everything’s clean for the community and set an example for little kids,” he said recently, standing in the parking lot at the Pineda Boat Ramp, wearing an orange hat and a fluorescent green vest over his black and white stripes.
He and seven other men walked around the park, picking bits of plastic from the vegetation near the river.
Spirits seemed high. Some men smiled as they worked. Sometimes, the men sang in call-and-response chorus:
We are the chain gang,
the mighty Ivey chain gang.