Inmates make protective gear to fight COVID-19 virus

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Fox 59 on 03/28/2020 by Russ McQuaid

Before he was incarcerated inside the Miami Correctional Facility, an inmate named Wesley worked construction and he’s putting those skills to use in the battle against the COVID-19 virus that is raging outside Indiana prison walls.

“This I been over here for fourteen months so I got all the sewing experience that’s needed for it but just using my construction field and building homes and stuff like that and I just kind of used that and produced some masks.”

In video and interviews shot by the Indiana Department of Correction and provided to FOX59 News, Wesley and other inmates hunch over sewing machines, stretch fabric and mix chemicals to create the personal protection equipment and supplies that prison personnel and state first responders need as they confront the coronavirus.

“We all understand the importance of what we are doing today and in the days to come because this is an important and vital role to public safety that we are being a part of and we are being tasked to try to supply personal protection equipment,” said Patrick Rich, IDOC Sales & Marketing Manager for Industrial Correctional Industries. “These will be offered to other facilities, other state agencies, whoever is in need of this gear we want to make sure we get it in their hands.”

Within a week the assembly line at the prison near Peru in north central Indiana went from making t-shirts and inmate uniforms to sewing gowns and facemasks.

“Since the new coronavirus came in, we had some people from downstate come in and ask us how to make a prototype of masks,” said Wesley, “and so they give us a box of masks to see if we could run but it didn’t really work for us, so we took a pattern from this end and this end and we kind of converted them into making our own, so we came up with the masks that we are making right now.

“They fit just like a normal mask kind of like a bike rider’s mask fits like this and it curves so it’s not in the vision of the client or the person wearing it.

“We’re all pleased to do it to help our communities out and hospitals and firefighters as much as we possibly can. We’ve done wrong in our lives but we’re still trying to make sure we do something back for our community.”

IDOC Commissioner Rob Carter unveiled some of the inmates’ handiwork during a statehouse briefing Friday afternoon.

“Today we’re in full production of gowns, we’re making about 200 a day, maybe we’ll scale up with that depending on how much material we get. Monday we’ll be in full production of masks, approximately 200 a day, and we expect to have the material in today or Monday.”

Next week IDOC expects to expand its personal protection equipment assembly line to the Wabash Correctional Facility and start making face shields.

In the Soap Shop at Miami Correctional, inmates have adapted their skills and recipes to make 650 12-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer.

“Most of these guys who have worked here have never had a job a day in their life. So, the skills that they learn are the skills we instill in them once they get a job here,” said Scott Stoner, shop foreman. “I feel a sense of pride when I come into work every day and we’re doing this and I hope that my guys do as well.”

Offender Wesley agreed.

“I think like I’m giving back and this what is gonna help get rid of the virus and we do the best that we can just like anybody else out there.”

The supplies manufactured by the inmates will be distributed to IDOC personnel and first responders and could displace other stockpiled gear that could then be redistributed to hospitals throughout Indiana.