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Dec 4, 2016
It works: Inmates labor to handle life after their release date 
By JONATHAN GALLARDO News Record Writer  

How tough life becomes for anyone can be relative, with some everyday hardships outweighing others. For many, it’s a buildup of multiple issues like an unreliable Wi-Fi connection or Mondays to more serious matters like relationships. Those inconveniences don’t loom as large for someone released from prison who has to adjust to the speed and unpredictability of the real world. 

The latest recidivism rate measured by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, which covers 2005-2010 and tracked 400,000 people released from prisons in 30 states, found that two-thirds of prisoners were re-arrested within three years. Within five years of release, that number explodes to 77 percent. Wyoming has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the country, according to a report from the Pew Research Center, which found that 25 percent of people released from prison in 2004 were back by 2007. Although that’s well below the national average, it is still one in four prisoners who returns to a life behind bars after getting a taste of freedom. Helping those repeat offenders to break that cycle and stay out of jail is the goal of WY Brand Industries. The correctional industries program is designed to reduce recidivism by helping inmates develop career skills as well as work ethic and good habits so that once they’re released, the transition isn’t so much of a shock. “Our mission is to teach them skills for (when) they get out into Wyoming communities,” said Mary Ann Majszak, Customer Service Manager, for the program. Majszak takes care of WY Brand’s customers along with seeking new ones, heads up new product development and oversees production of items made by inmates. She said it’s important to realize that when inmates are released, they are going to become not just employees, but neighbors as well. So not only do they learn how to do work with their hands, but also how to work with other people. “We try to keep it as much as it would be for a normal job so they know how to interact with their coworkers, how to interact with their supervisors, so they know how to perform in (a business) atmosphere,” Majszak said. 

Some of WY Brand’s best-selling products come from its specialty gift line, which is headquartered in the Wyoming Honor Conversation Camp in Newcastle. Majszak said the most unique line features products made from license plates. “We used to make the plates for the state in Rawlins. Now WYDOT does that, but we have plates left over,” she said. “Eventually it’s going to run out, but right now we have quite a few.” Majszak said a small assembly line of three people turns the license plates into unique gifts, including birdhouses, barn stars, airplanes, lunch boxes and purses. “One will wash the plates, the next one will cut them out with a template and the next one is using a machine to bend them and complete the product,” Majszak said. WY Brand does much more than make unique gifts, however. All state prisons are involved with the program, and each one has a different industry. The Wyoming Women’s Center in Lusk has a fish farm where the inmates raise tilapia to be sold to wholesalers. The Wyoming Honor Farm in Riverton has a sign shop. The Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution in Torrington runs a braille program, as well as an embroidery shop. The Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins has a print shop. Correction facilities in Lusk, Rawlins and Torrington also have garment shops, where inmates make uniforms. 

At each location, there is a site manager who works as a supervisor for the individual operations, managing staff and inmates. Paul Metevier, a site manager in Rawlins, oversees a print shop and a garment shop, as well as the sign shop in Riverton. He said the inmates love working in the shops. “You can have adverse conditions, the weather will be poor and they’ll want to come to work,” he said. Majszak agreed, saying that “You rarely see a disgruntled inmate. They’re proud of what they do.” It gives inmates opportunities to work their minds and think critically instead of sitting in a cell doing nothing, Metevier said. But it’s not like any inmate can walk up and be a part of WY Brand. “We try to run it as much as a business as we can,” Metevier said. This includes the hiring process. When a job opens up, WY Brand will post a job description and inmates can apply. A committee looks at the applications and determines whether an inmate qualifies. “Once they’ve been cleared, we put them under an interview panel, and we select the most qualified individuals,” Metevier said. Because the program’s goal is to reduce recidivism, Metevier said it tries to select inmates who are at a high risk of ending back up in prison after they’re released. “If you have someone that is low-risk, they’re probably not going to come back anyway,” he said. The inmates earn wages and have the potential to be promoted, based not only on the amount of time they’ve worked, but their performance. They won’t be put in charge of other prisoners but can work in higher-paying positions with more responsibilities. 

Although WY Brand Industries began in 1999, Majszak said it doesn’t have that name recognition one might expect from a business that’s been around for more than 15 years. “A lot of people don’t even know that we’re even out there,” she said. “At trade shows, people don’t know that we exist, and it’s just because we don’t advertise like a regular retail outlet would.” WY Brand is working with a media consultant to help get its name out to the public, but one thing the company does not want to do is steal customers from local private enterprises. “One of our main things is we don’t want to compete with any Wyoming business,” Majszak said. “We’ll go to great lengths to avoid that.” “If it’s anything out of state, then we’ll definitely compete, but if it’s a Wyoming business, then no,” Metevier said. Majszak said that if a customer asks for a product she knows could be bought from a Wyoming business, she will direct the customer to that business. “We don’t open a lot of new businesses, but when we do we do a lot of research,” Metevier said. “We try to do things that have left the state and bring them back. A lot of signs are bought from North and South Dakota, and that’s the type of business we go after.” WY Brand tries to help not only local businesses, but the communities surrounding correctional facilities as well. “The best part is when you impact the community with a positive change,” Metevier said. “What we do here can impact what they do out there.” Metevier said he’s run into many former inmates who have gone on to live successful lives after their release from prison. “It’s nice that they’re out, being professional, treating you with respect,” he said. “It goes to show you made an impact on them.” He added that for the program to be a success, inmates need to be willing to learn. And when they do, it’s a beautiful and rewarding thing, he said. “I take a lot of pride in what we do,” he said. “We want to impact as many as we can. But it’s like education. They have to want it as well, and if you’re able to help them to get to that point where they have that motivation, it makes you feel like you’ve contributed to society, and that’s important to me.” 

For the full line of products offered, visit WY Brand’s website, and for more information, contact Customer Service Manager Mary Ann Majszak at 307-777-3437 or at maryann.majszak@wyo.gov.

Jan 17, 2017
Prison industries prepare inmates for working world 
Rawlins Times

RAWLINS — The Wyoming State Penitentiary’s garment and print shops both serve to produce goods for correctional industries, which allow inmates to learn a craft and make something of value for the community. 

“Our goal is recidivism, the reduction of recidivism,” Paul Metevier, a site manager for WY Brand Industries, said in a phone interview. WY Brand Industries is one such correctional industry that is a division of the Wyoming Department of Corrections. 

“There’s a large number of inmates who will be your neighbor some day. We want to make sure that when they hit the streets, they can hold a job.” 

According to their website, WY Brand products adhere to strict standards, particularly in terms of who can and cannot purchase them. Small businesses and state or government agencies can do so, but private citizens cannot.

“All sales must go through a non-­profit organization or through a small Wyoming business,” the WY Brand website reads. According to Metevier, the Pen’s garment shop is the “largest garment factory in the state.” It is capable of producing uniforms for inmates and correctional officers, as well as bedding, sheets, pillowcases, socks and underwear.

“Just about anything you can think of that come from a garment shop, we can do,” Metevier said. 

Cindy Wallace serves on the Correctional Industries Advisory Board in addition to her place as the head of the Carbon County Economic Development Corporation. She said she thinks more people would want to be aware of the correctional industries and the products they put out. 

“It gives them, to me, the satisfaction of knowing they’re busy,” Wallace said of the benefits these industries would serve to the inmates. “It helps keep them busy instead of sitting around doing nothing.” 

The advisory board is governor­-appointed with members from around the state. 

“We just represent certain parts of the state and our job is to look at the correctional industries,” Wallace said. “We basically recommend policies for the correctional industry programs, which basically we’re trying to…help the prisoner to learn a skill so that when they go out some day for a job they have some skills behind them. We don’t want to compete with the private sector, so there’s only certain things they can do.”

Metevier said that their workshop has a number of fine tools for use, including a laser engraver, and that they can produce keychains, plaques and all manner of similar objects. Wooden wagons have been a traditional product of the Pen’s workshops and those wagons can be seen on the lonesome road winding to the Pen’s gates still. 

WY Brand products are not only sold at the Wyoming Frontier Prison in Rawlins, but can be found in other places around the state as well, including the Wyoming State Museum and 16th Street Mercantile in Cheyenne, the Wyoming Territorial Prison and the Ivinson Hospital Gift shop in Laramie, Sweetwater Trophies and Framing in Green River and at Vertical Harvest in Jackson.