Russell Freeman

Russell Freeman, left, Donna Leonetti, center, and Tim Merchant display the 45 pounds of tabs collected at Trinidad Correctional Facility in a charity drive for the Ronald McDonald House, below, in Colorado Springs.

This Freeman is not a free man.     

Russell Freeman, a 58-year old convicted murderer, has been incarcerated for 39 years and three months. He could be eligible for parole to a halfway house when he serves 40 years. His future is riding on a prayer and a shoeshine.     

Born in Enid, Okla., Freeman was 19 when the law nabbed him and his older brother and convicted them for murder in 1979. He has bounced around three prisons during his long incarceration, and his road to redemption has finally ended at the Trinidad Correctional Facility located in Model, Colo. The prison houses over 500 male offenders in minimum security and the Level II facility offers a re-entry program that prepares inmates for eventual release by developing personal skills and educational uplifting.    

Needless to say, Freeman has had a lot of time on his hands.     

So he started dumpster diving and pulling tabs from cans.     

Hour after hour, day after day, week after week, fair and foul weather, Freeman has committed himself to his mission of collecting tabs for the Ronald McDonald House in Colorado Springs.     

“Just give me a bag and some gloves and I’m good,” he said.     

“I’ve seen him out there in the snow and rain and swatting at bees in the hot weather,” said Tim Merchant, an NCCER (Nation Center for Construction, Education and Research) Instructor at the local prison, “Russell was already recycling cans, so I approached the Associate Warden and asked for the tabs. I knew about Donna (Leonetti) and her collection drive for the Ronald McDonald tabs.”     

This month, Freeman has hit the 59,000-tab mark or 45 pounds of tabs. “I always thought about the prospect of recycling,” he said. He started his recycling drive eight years ago at the Crowley prison before he transferred to Trinidad Correctional in 2015.       

“He has a lot of dedication that’s for sure,” said Jimmy Costin, the prison’s Recreational and Volunteer Coordinator, “Everyday he’s out there to smash cans and pull tabs. He approached me about the recycling project, and Tim and I jumped on board.”      

Freeman’s dedication has inspired his fellow inmates. The profit from the recycled cans goes into the prison’s Enterprise Fund, where the monies are used to purchase gym equipment, tennis shoes and other specialty items for the inmates. Freeman gets a small percentage of the money.      

In addition, a tab contest has been established for each of the five housing units—where the unit with the most tabs gets free popcorn in the recreational room. The winning unit for the month just needs to show their ID for the popcorn.      

“Popcorn may seem like a small thing,” said Merchant, “but not in prison.”      

Freeman wants to follow in his older brother’s steps, who has already been pardoned for his crime and goes into prisons on speaking engagements to try and steer convicts down the righeous path. He is a certified carpenter and an author. He is a master with balls of colorful yarn and recently penned the book Crochet Made Simple for Home Boys. During cell time, Freeman creates amazing minions and an assortment of decorated blankets of yarn that takes months to finish. He says he already has a job offer if the parole door opens for him.

“I’m happy and proud to be a part of Donna’s quest for tabs,” he said. “I started last November and it’s been over a year of collecting tabs. The home boys are always asking me who won the tab contest and I say the Ronald McDonald House won.”

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