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Awash in generosity: Donated water features help county inmates nurture job skills, self-worth

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By AJ Vicens

Some county jail inmates with hot water in their past have found new hope in the cool cascade of a new calling.

Barry Fox of Falls by Fox did not offer a cold shoulder when asked to donate a water feature and help Jeffco jail inmates learn about ornamental horticulture. The result was a cool change in perspective for some inmates.

"I told 'em, 'Hell, I'll donate two,’ " said Fox, standing next to a waterfall that he, his staff and a group of Jeffco inmates built last week at the jail's rose garden.

Fox learned about ornamental horticulture when he was a young man in Texas, and started Denver-based Falls by Fox in 2001, focusing on developing lakes, ponds, waterfalls, disappearing/pondless water features and streams.

As far as helping the sheriff's office, Fox said he wanted to show the inmates that there are opportunities for decent jobs outside of jail.

"I wanted to try and inspire them," Fox said. "We've all made mistakes in the past. This is my passion, and I thought, 'Why couldn't I just give it away?’ "

Fox said the inmates could learn how to build extensive waterfalls — complete with underground water tanks, pumps and other electrical equipment — qualifying them for an entry-level job with any water feature company in Colorado.

Giving back to the community was also a prime motivator.

"For me, to give back to the community is a good thing," Fox said.

The addition to the rose garden could have cost as much as $15,000, and a second, smaller waterfall built near a law enforcement memorial on the sheriff's property would have cost up to $10,000.

"I wanted to help honor them," Fox said, referring to the second waterfall near the memorial. "These guys died for me, basically."

Although the donation cost Fox close to $25,000 — without counting the time his staff and equipment could have been working on other projects — it's worth it to him.

"The part that makes me feel good is worth the 25K I gave up."

Rick Lehl, a sheriff's inmate worker supervisor, said he wanted to find a company that would donate some materials and expertise so the inmates could work on a water feature. He figured it would be small, and had no idea how generous Fox ultimately would be.

"It's way more than I expected," Lehl said. "We asked for materials or work on a small water feature, and he said he'd donate two."

Lehl said the sheriff’s office ended up spending just $3,000, which came out of the inmate welfare fund. The rest was donated by Fox in the form of staff time and materials.

"With the way the economy is right now, for someone to come out and do this is incredible," Lehl said.

"I think this is great," said Dave Stevens, an inmate from Dumont who helped Fox and his staff build both waterfalls over the course of four days. "In fact, myself and one other guy are going to apply for jobs (with Fox) when we get out of here."

Stevens said he was raised on a ranch in Montana and is no stranger to hard work. He was a miner for many years and has experience with all types of heavy machinery. Building waterfalls is right up his alley — but Stevens was surprised by how much knowledge Fox and his crew imparted.

"I didn't know it was going to be all that stuff," he said, pointing to the backhoe, trucks and all the materials that Fox brought to build the waterfalls. "All these aspects — it's crazy."

Stevens said the experience helped him shape his goals for the future.

"When I came to jail, I was looking at a year of not knowing what I wanted to do with the rest of my life," Stevens said. "Once we started doing this, I know this is what I want to do now."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.