While finishing up their work on Jan. 30, Nelson Pettis, 37, Larry Bohn, 29, and Jon Fowler, 29, heard children's screams coming from the nearby creek. Rushing to the water's edge, they saw three young boys struggling to keep their heads above water.
The children's small canoe had capsized, dumping the boys into the cold, 25-mph current, which was rushing towards the Washington River.
"It was raging pretty fast," Pettis told the local KPTV news station. "They were really scared."
He and Bohn didn't think twice, leaping into the water to grab the boys – later identified as brothers ages 8, 10 and 16 – carrying them to a small island, where they awaited emergency rescue. "They kept telling us, 'Thank you, thank you,' " Bohn told reporters.
Fowler, who remained on land and helped emergency crews blow up an inflatable raft and bring the group back to shore, told reporters that while some may find their actions surprising, "We did what any good person would do."
The men took off their shirts to wrap up the shivering boys, all of whom were taken to the hospital for mild hypothermia.
Prison authorities say the men involved are all serving time for non-violent crimes.
"Just because we're incarcerated doesn't mean we're bad people," Fowler told reporters. "We made some bad choices in our lives, but we're still just like everybody else."