SYKESVILLE — For Kirk Fleet, having the opportunity to give back to breast cancer initiative Bras for a Cause is meaningful in more ways than one.
Fleet was one of several inmates at the Central Maryland Correctional Facility in Sykesville on Thursday who washed, dried and folded bras that will be donated to area women's shelters.
New and gently used bras were collected at Plaza Ford in Bel Air during the month of October, and for each bra collected, $1 was donated to Upper Chesapeake Cancer LifeNet, a program offered by the Harford County hospital that helps patients find the services they need to balance work, family and cancer treatment, according to its website.
Thursday marked Fleet's second year as part of Bras for a Cause and after losing his cousin, Sage Johnson, to breast cancer in November, the cause hit home.
"I'm very glad that I can contribute to it because it lets me give back," Fleet said. "Being able to do something to contribute, after the disease took my cousin from me, is wonderful."
Before he was incarcerated for first-degree assault, Fleet enjoyed a close relationship with Johnson, who battled cancer for about three years and would have celebrated turning 43 this Saturday.
"She graduated from [Baltimore City College] and I went to [Baltimore Polytechnic Institute]. We would always go to the City-Poly games together because of the rivalry," he said. "We were very close, but I only got to see her once when she had cancer. She left behind a son and had just recently got married."
Bras for a Cause has been running since 2009, when WFRE radio staton led collection in Frederick and gathered over 13,000 bras at its peak.
This year, the first year bras were collected at Plaza Ford, more than 2,300 bras were donated.
With the large industrial washers and dryers at the Sykesville location — formerly known as the Central Laundry Facility — cleaning the bras was no problem for the inmates, although folding created an issue in the past.
"The first year, we had [male] inmates asking, 'How do you fold a bra?' " said Greg Myers, floor supervisor of the facility. "Nobody had ever used it, and really none of us knew. I just told them, 'Put one cup inside the other cup. Put the strings in the middle and that's folding.'"
While incarcerated, inmates are allowed to apply for jobs through Maryland Correctional Enterprises. Fleet has worked in the laundry facility for three years.
"A lot of guys come here court ordered as their last stop before they go home," said Plant Manager Blake Haulsee of the facility that provides substance abuse help and employment readiness.
"When [Fleet] first came to the jail, he asked me about a job and I hired him. He's been with me ever since."
MCE aims to craft inmates into model citizens.
"When they do these projects, they are able to give back to the community they have taken from," said spokeswoman Ashley Lohr. "Guys that have been with our program for at least a year have less a chance of returning to the prison system. If someone has worked for an MCE program, their chance of returning to the system is cut in half."
MCE has an 80 percent success rate and a 20 percent recidivism rate. Lohr says inmates who have the chance to work on projects such as Bras for a Cause appreciate the opportunity.
"These men are very skilled workers," she said. "It's a very professional environment. They take a lot of pride in doing stuff like this."