Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

At the Faribault library: When a knock-knock joke is more than just a knock-knock joke February 7, 2017

What did one plate say to the other?
Lunch is on me.

What do you give a sick pig?

How do you count cows?
With a cowculator.

NOW YOU MIGHT EXPECT a third grader shared those knock-knock jokes with me or perhaps I read them in a joke book?




But you would be wrong. I read them on new furniture placed several days ago in Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault. You read that right. The jokes are printed on easy chairs and loveseats. But this isn’t just any furniture. Minnesota prisoners crafted this furniture.

So what’s the story with the construction and the upholstery design? For the answers, I turned to Library Director Delane James.




In the market for the first new furniture since a library remodeling project in 1996, James looked to the state vendor approved MINNCOR Industries, a Minnesota Department of Corrections prison industry. Inmate labor is utilized for manufacturing products and for services. She likes the idea, James says, of prisoners learning marketable skills that may prevent recidivism.




James also knew that the quality, durable furniture will last. For the past 21 years, MINNCOR furniture endured in her library that today sees 500-700 daily users.

With specific goals, the library director started poking around on the MINNCOR website for fabric options. “I wanted something that was attention-getting and to promote literacy,” she says. “I wanted the unexpected, to get them (library users) to read.”




She found that in the Funnybone Collection, in a print labeled KNOCK KNOCK in a color tagged Class Clown.

Already, James has seen the positive results of her fabric choice. She observed two high school students reading knock-knock jokes to one another during a library Homework Help session.




Among jokes printed on the fabric is this one:

How do prisoners make phone calls?
With cell phones.

That joke is the favorite of prisoners and is the talk of the prison, James learned when $40,000 in lounge chairs, loveseats, computer chairs and 90 stackable chairs were delivered to the library late last week. Only the loveseats and three of the easy chairs are imprinted with jokes.




The KNOCK KNOCK design chosen by James is also putting Buckham Library in the spotlight. A MINNCOR marketing staffer photographed the furniture in the Faribault library on Friday to promote usage in other libraries. Perhaps more Minnesota library directors will take a cue from James and select prison-built Funnybone furniture that grabs attentions, promotes literacy and prompts conversation.

TELL ME: Have you seen this or similar inspiring furniture in a public place? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Learning about my new neighbor, from the Minnesota Department of Corrections February 2, 2013

WE AREN’T EXACTLY ROLLING OUT the welcome mat in my Faribault neighborhood for our soon-to-be newest neighbor.

Phillip Louis Davis, after all, isn’t the type of neighbor any of us would want. But he’s served his prison time and now he’s free to go. Sort of. He’ll be under correctional supervision until his sentence expires in November 2018.  And he must register as a predatory offender for the next 10 years.

Thursday evening I attended a community notification meeting to learn more from Michéle Murphy of the Minnesota Department of Corrections about 54-year-old Davis who received a 98-month prison sentence in 2005 for first degree criminal sexual conduct with a 4-year-old. He had previously been charged with third degree criminal sexual conduct involving a 15-year-old at a hotel swimming pool. And, Davis has a history of exposing himself to adult females.

As Murphy began her presentation to about a dozen residents, she noted her goal—to help achieve “reduced anxiety” among those in attendance.

I don’t know that any of us left feeling less anxious. But we certainly exited the meeting more informed.

Informational sheets distributed at Thursday's community notification meeting.

Informational sheets distributed at Thursday’s community notification meeting.

That brings me back to Davis’ freedom. Although he’s free of prison walls, he’ll be under intensive supervised release. This is nothing I didn’t already know, having attended at least three previous community notification meetings involving other Level 3 predatory offenders scheduled for release into my neighborhood. But a review of conditions is always valuable information to carry in your pocket.

Davis, among other requirements, will be on GPS for the first 60-90 days (or longer); can be checked on at any time; must make daily phone contact with his supervising agent; must complete sex offender programming; cannot use the internet or any device with internet capabilities (and, yes, that includes a cell phone); and cannot have contact with minors.

In defining “contact with minors,” Murphy noted, for instance, that Davis can’t even wave at a child or, when he’s at the grocery store, ask, “Where’s the bread?”

That is good to know, especially since this predatory offender is moving into a neighborhood filled with children (15 within eyesight from my front yard) and about a stone’s throw from a school bus stop.

I worry about the children. I was particularly disappointed that the parents of neighborhood children and representatives of Faribault schools and the local school bus company did not attend the community notification meeting.

BUT AT LEAST ONE FARIBAULT FATHER, whose daughter was the victim of another Level 3 predatory offender, was there to raise questions and voice his concerns. You could feel his frustration, hear his anger, especially when he stated that he expects Davis to re-offend. For the sake of my community, I hope he is wrong.

The father also muttered something about wishing he could take matters into his own hands. At that point a representative of the Rice County attorney’s office and Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen warned the audience that vigilantism will not be tolerated, that Davis has served his time and is free to live within our community. They were correct to lecture us. But in that moment, my heart truly went out to that father who has walked through hell.

I struggled, too, at one point to curb my emotions when I asked why these Level 3 predatory offenders keep choosing my neighborhood, the same two blocks of Willow Street (four times now, maybe five, I’ve lost exact count). I got the same answer a police department spokesman gave me several days ago: Some property owners are just willing to rent to offenders.

When I pressed for information on how predatory offenders are getting these property owners’ names, I didn’t really get an answer. I don’t think they are sitting in prison reading the classifieds in the Faribault Daily News searching for an apartment to rent. Nor did I get an answer as to where Davis had been imprisoned or whether he had completed sex offender treatment while incarcerated.

DOC rep Murphy did add that offenders sometimes have friends and family in the neighborhood, which I don’t believe to be the case with Davis. (His offenses against the 4-year-old and 15-year-old did occur in Rice County.) Living arrangements are approved by the supervising agent.

SO HOW MANY LEVEL 1, 2 and 3 registered predatory offenders live in Faribault? Seventy. That number excludes those incarcerated at the Minnesota Correctional Facility, Faribault. Thirty-two more live in other parts of Rice County.

In the entire state of Minnesota, there are approximately 17,400 registered predatory offenders, Murphy said. Of those, 287 are classified as Level 3 “higher risk” predatory offenders, like Davis, for whom community notification is required by state law.

Minnesota, unlike some other states, does not have residence restrictions such as restricting predatory offenders from living near schools, daycares, parks, etc., Murphy said. Cases and statistics show, she said, “It’s not where someone lives, but the relationships they are engaging in (which determine who is victimized).” In Davis’ case, he knew his victims.

Ninety percent of sexually-abused children are abused by someone they know or trust, Murphy said.

Armed with that and other information, we were advised not to engage or approach Davis should we suspect/observe him violating conditions of his release. Rather, we should contact police immediately.

You can bet not a single person at that meeting would hesitate, not for a second, to inform law enforcement of suspected violations. We will be watching—for the sake of our children.

FYI: To learn more about Davis, the Level 3 predatory offender moving into the 300 block of Willow Street on February 7, click here to reach the Minnesota Department of Corrections offender information page.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The neighbor no one wants February 24, 2011

I WALKED OUT OF A NEARLY TWO-HOUR meeting last night at the Faribault Police Department wondering how many more times I will need to sit through a session like this.

For at least the third time, if not the fourth (I’ve lost track), I attended a level three sex offender community notification meeting.

On March 1, a level three offender—designated as most likely to re-offend—is moving into a rental unit in the 300 block of Willow Street, within two blocks of my home. The 34-year-old registered predatory offender has been convicted twice, and sent to prison, for sex crimes against 15-year-old females in Dakota and Rice counties.

He also has an extensive juvenile and adult history of criminal and chemical abuse activity. Some of those crimes involved theft and domestic assault and a shotgun. We weren’t given a detailed list of all his crimes, but he’s not the kind of guy you want moving into your neighborhood.

No one was up in arms at the meeting, which was sparsely attended, I believe, due to the “if it’s not in my neighborhood I don’t care” attitude or perhaps a lack of awareness about the offender moving here. But those who attended, especially mothers whose daughters fit his victim age group of young teens, expressed their very real concerns.

The man’s 15-year-old victims included one with whom he had a relationship and another whom he met at a party and who was under the influence of alcohol. In that last August 2004 assault in Rice County, the offender was sentenced to 98 months in prison. He was released on April 26, 2010, into another Faribault neighborhood. (Surprise. I didn’t know that.) Six months later he was back in prison for violating rules of his supervision by having access to the internet.

Presenter Mark Bliven of the Minnesota Department of Corrections advised attendees to educate their children, offering lists of safety tips. Faribault Police Chief Dan Collins added that many crimes are “crimes of opportunity.” We’ve all heard it before—and I suppose a refresher course doesn’t hurt—but I was more interested in hearing specifics about my new neighbor. So, yes, I asked questions, lots of them.

If we are to believe Bliven, residents outside of my neighborhood and the Faribault community ought to be more concerned about this level three sex offender than those of us living close to him. Typically, he said, offenders, if they recommit, do so outside of their neighborhoods, away from the places where they know they are being watched.

Most often, he added, if offenders are returned to prison, it is for non-criminal offenses, ie. violation of their supervised release. My new neighbor can’t drink, can’t hang out with minors, can’t access the internet, can’t break the law, can’t just go (for now) wherever he pleases…

Bliven spewed out statistics, like 16,500 registered predatory offenders were living in Minnesota as of January 1, 2011. That number encompasses mostly sex offenders, but also includes those involved in crimes of kidnapping and false imprisonment.

Within Minnesota communities there are currently 203 level three offenders. About half of those live in Minneapolis. Of the 203, there are 71 under supervision; 132 are unsupervised.

Come March 1, two level three offenders will be living in Faribault.

We know about those two offenders because they are classified as level three, at high risk for re-offending. By state law, community notification is required.

But 63 other registered predatory offenders live in Faribault. Thirty more live in other parts of Rice County. Their identities are unknown to us because they are classified at lower risk levels.

Throughout the meeting, Blevin tried to reassure us. The offender will be on intensive supervised release until April 24, 2020. He must register as a predatory offender for life. He will be on an active GPS for up to 60 days…six probation officers will be watching him.

Neighbors will be watching too.

I wasn’t upset by the information I learned at Wednesday night’s meeting. I’ve been through this before. I expected to hear what I heard. I truly believe that knowledge is power in protecting ourselves and our children.

What I found most unsettling, because I did not expect this, happened after the meeting. As my husband and I were driving away from the police department, we saw a Rice County probation officer—the supervising agent for the offender moving into my neighborhood—open the back door of her car and slip a bullet-proof vest over her head. I don’t know where she was headed or what she was doing, but that was a frightening reality check for me.


CLICK HERE to reach the Minnesota Department of Corrections website for more information about the level three sex offender moving to Faribault on March 1.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling