Inmate’s woodworking projects recognized by Wyoming sheriff’s office

GILLETTE, Wyo. — For the past nine months, Juan Guajardo Jr. has been taking up temporary residence at the Campbell County jail.

Serving time while awaiting a sentence for check fraud and bringing drugs into jail, Guajardo quickly earned a spot on the work block outside crew.

He clocks in at 7:30 a.m. and clocks out at 4 p.m., and he can be seen shoveling snow, trimming trees, blowing leaves and any number of other tasks he’s asked to do.

But when he completes these tasks, he goes straight to the workshop and gets straight to another type of work.

He takes pieces of scrap wood and turns them into furniture and works of art.

When he’s not in his cell, he spends his day trying to make the jail a better place.

“Jail’s not the happiest place, man,” Guajardo said.

But there’s still happiness to be found there, you just have to know where to look. For Guajardo, that joy comes from seeing other people smile at the various projects he’s made, including a birdhouse, a wishing well and a picnic table.

“I do it for myself, but if someone else feels good about it, it makes me feel good that they feel good about it,” he said.

Guajardo keeps to himself at the jail. Fraternization with other inmates is limited to a simple greeting. He’d rather watch romantic comedies than hang out with the others. He’s determined to not let jail get him down.

“You could be back there, you could be miserable and mean, stuck in a rut,” Guajardo said.

“Misery loves company back there.”

For Guajardo, woodworking is therapeutic.

“As you’re doing it, your mind’s clear, you’re just thinking about your cuts, your measurements, how it’s going to look,” he said.

He’s spent most of 2021 getting his mind clear, preparing to leave his old self behind.

Guajardo said he never got into trouble with the law until his early 30s. Then, he started hanging with the wrong crowd and making the wrong decisions. He started using meth, and things went downhill from there.

In 2016, Guajardo was sentenced to three to five years in prison for drug endangering a child. He had been charged with eight counts of endangering children and possession of meth.

Deputies searched Guajardo’s home after learning that guns stolen in Hulett allegedly had been traded to him in exchange for meth, according to court documents. Deputies found 38 grams of meth and 25 prescription amphetamine pills, scales, suspected liquid meth and meth paraphernalia. He also admitted using meth there.

Guajardo said he wasn’t ready for prison at that time. While he was in there, he felt like he had something to prove, because that’s how everyone else was in there. He wanted to be that guy that nobody messed with. As a result, when he was released from prison, he wasn’t much different from the person who walked in.

When he got out, he “did pretty good to get back on my feet,” and then he sabotaged himself again. In September 2020, Guajardo gave Bloedorn Lumber a bad check. And in March he was arrested on a parole warrant, and found in possession of a bag with 1.19 grams of meth.

He pleaded guilty to check fraud and bringing drugs into jail. District Judge John R. Perry sentenced Guajardo to three years of supervised probation and fined him $1,000. It will be the first time Guajardo’s been on probation.

“They gave me a second chance this time,” he said. “I’m going to really take advantage of it.”

He had to celebrate his 40th birthday in the Campbell County jail in September. He’s determined to not let that happen again.

“No more birthdays in jail,” he said.

He’s been on the work block for most of his time in jail, and he’s been part of the outside crew for five months.

Tracy Keffeler, maintenance supervisor, said there have been projects that have needed to be done for years, and they’ve finally been completed during Guajardo’s time at the jail.

Guajardo painted the evidence vault, the dispatch office and the visitation room, he’s refinished the floor of the Sheriff’s Office lobby and he deep-cleaned a hundred jail cells.

Keffeler is meticulous when it comes to trimming trees and painting. With Guajardo, Keffeler finally had someone who was willing to work up to that high standard.

“When he’s painting, he’ll put one hand behind his back just to steady himself. That’s the type of person he is, he wants to do a good job,” Keffeler said.

“Some people would say he’s just doing that for show,” he said. “After 22 years, I know when it’s for show. When nobody’s looking, he’s still working.”

Undersheriff Quentin Reynolds said a lot of talented people come through the jail: electricians, welders and painters, to name a few.

“A lot of them are good people, they simply made a mistake,” he said. “And they’d rather work than sit in the block, so we give them an opportunity. In Juan’s case, he gets his stuff done and it gives him an opportunity to work on his special projects.”

Guajardo has gained the trust of Keffeler and the other maintenance workers, and it goes beyond knowing that he’ll finish a job.

“A lot of times you can’t just let a guy go,” Keffeler said. “I can let him go, and trust that it’ll be done right.”

When they’re done with their work, most inmates will call it a day. They’ll sit in the sun, or play cards or dominoes with each other.

Not Guajardo.

When he finishes his assigned work, it’s straight to the workshop.

It all started with a birdhouse. There was a small, old birdhouse sitting on top of a stump outside the undersheriff’s office. Guajardo had to walk past it every day, and he thought it could use an upgrade.

“I asked my boss if I could make a new one. They gave me permission, but they said don’t get too carried away,” he said.

They gave him some scrap lumber, and he ended up building a house that looks like a small-scale cabin that wouldn’t look out of place on a lakefront, with doors, windows, a chimney and a wraparound deck.

The birdhouse was a hit, so Guajardo got permission to start on his next project. A long time ago, he made a wishing well for his grandmother using old privacy fence, and he decided to make one for the Sheriff’s Office.

In the summer, it was placed outside the entrance to the Sheriff’s Office and decorated with flowers. It’s since been brought inside to protect it from the Wyoming winter weather.

“It all starts with the ugliest piece of old lumber you can possibly think of,” Guajardo said.

“All the wood, it’s already been used, we just kind of made it new again, we repurposed it.”

Keffeler said Guajardo sometimes goes ahead and starts on a project without asking permission. But when Keffeler sees what Guajardo’s done, it’s hard for him to say no.

That’s exactly what happened with Guajardo’s favorite project, a picnic table that sits behind the Sheriff’s Office.

There was an old picnic table that had been there for more than two decades. And it had needed to be rebuilt and repainted several times. Guajardo kept bugging Keffeler to let him build a new one.

“He told me no at first, but I got one board ready to go, and then he let us do it,” Guajardo said.

It’s a five-piece set, with two benches and two chairs, and it took him about a month to complete.

This table is going to be here for a while, Keffeler said.

“We’re talking a hundred years before this one goes away,” he said. “It’s a legacy table.”

Keffeler said Guajardo is always bugging him for more work to do. At one point, Guajardo got tired of asking Keffeler for work orders. He found an old mailbox in the junk pile. He attached it to a wooden post and wrote “work orders” on it.

It sums up Guajardo’s spirit in a nutshell, Keffeler said.

“I’ve had a lot of guys work for me, but none (who) quite had that much, just go, go go go,” Keffeler said.

Having been to prison, Guajardo doesn’t know why some people treat it as a badge of honor.

“I don’t understand why people even want to be in prison, it’s not a thing, there’s nothing cool about it. You don’t get props for going to prison,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who have stuff to prove, they’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve done time.’ I hate saying that.”

He’s ready to be back on the outside, but he knows that all this talk means nothing unless he can succeed on supervised probation.

Guajardo said he is better equipped for success now, and has a “whole new arsenal” of people to support him.

There are members of the Sheriff’s Office who have told him they’re saving home improvement projects for him so that he has work to do when he’s out of jail.

Guajardo knows there are some people who will frown upon this and make fun of him for working for the cops.

His message for these people? “If you see somebody doing good, just get out of the way.”

“Some guys try to knock you down, call you a brown-noser or a kiss-ass, but they’ve got to go to sleep every night with that in their heart,” he said. “I sleep fine.”

Link to Original Article:  https://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/inmates-woodworking-projects-recognized-by-wyoming-sheriffs-office/article_6e0c4803-238a-56f0-a01c-0396bbec9516.html

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