Inmates meet with Dayton businessmen to talk business

Warden Jackie Crawford has 30,000 square feet of space at Lovelock prison and she's trying hard to attract businesses.

But the tour of the facility for executives of Bruce Industries, a Dayton aerospace business, was set up for the team she brought in to close the deal - the inmates who want the jobs Bruce can offer.

"We're the workforce you're looking for," said Gerald Reed, Jr. "We have some quality men we believe can provide you what you need."

Engineering chief Al Thompson and Project Manager John Stevens of Bruce Industries spent a good portion of their Friday tour talking to the inmates. One by one, they dealt with issues from potential violence to dedication of the workers until both Thompson and Stevens admitted they were impressed.

Inmate William Graham said they offer a stable and motivated workforce.

"Some of us are going to be around here for a while," he said. "There will be a certain amount of turnover, but your top level people, your cadre, will stay."

Crawford put it more bluntly: Only at a prison can an employer check exactly how long a potential worker will be there.

"We don't have absentee problems. One thing I can assure you, these guys are not going to go out on Friday night, get drunk, lose their paychecks and not show up for work."

Nor, she said, do they have trouble within the prison industry programs.

The inmates have to earn the right to have the kind of jobs Bruce Industries would bring to Lovelock Correctional Center.

"The people we would be providing you are those with no disciplinary problems and who want to work," she said.

"You move up in levels," said Doyle Swarm, also an inmate at the facility. "The workforce you would be hiring from doesn't have troublemakers. I've lived in unit several months now and I haven't seen an argument."

"The administration has been careful to structure a program that weeds out the troublemakers," said Reed. "We are pursuing bettering ourselves in a number of areas. We're enthusiastic, ambitious. Sometimes maybe even anxious."

Swarm added that those jobs provide money for themselves, for their families on the outside and to pay court-ordered restitution as well as marketable skills for the day they leave prison - a point not lost on Stevens.

"Right now we have 170 employees and replacing one of them is next to impossible," he said referring to the low unemployment left by Nevada's booming economy. "We could be training a workforce for us."

Stevens said they are looking for help on several levels, starting with a workforce to take over tasks he says his Dayton workers shouldn't be doing.

Bruce Industries designs and builds lighting fixtures for commercial and military applications - primarily interior lighting for commercial aircraft from exit pathways to cabin lights to emergency lights.

"Quite often we get into non-lighting projects," he said, giving examples such as building crates to transport military hospital lighting systems and strapping systems.

"We're sewing straps right now because we weren't happy with the work we were getting outside. We shouldn't be sewing straps or building crates."

He said they also need help with repetitive work such as assembling the products they make and possibly, down the road, more complex tasks such as building circuit boards.

The inmates drove home the point that they want and can handle all of those jobs.

Crawford said companies like Bruce Industries are the key to building a solid prison industry program at Lovelock that helps both the businesses and the inmates.

She said they have a wood shop that turns out, among other things, top quality kitchen cabinets and a greenhouse raising seedlings that will be sold through stores like Wal-Mart.

She said she's looking for businesses to fill the rest of the prison's large, modern industrial area. The problem, according to John Woodburn of Prison Industries and Crawford, is getting people out there to look at Lovelock which is more than 80 miles east of Reno on Interstate 80.

"We have people eager to work," she said. "If we had jobs for them, we'd have everything going out here."


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