North Carolina Department of Correction news release

APRIL 10, 1998

Prisoners put to work sewing T-shirts

CARTHAGE - The T-shirts state prisoners wear bear the label North Carolina Correction Enterprises and are made by prisoners working in a sewing plant at the old Moore Correctional Center.

The plant’s machines are not like everyday sewing machines. They are equipped with automatic trimmers and guides that help create hems to speed the pace of work.

Six rows of sewing machines hum loudly. As the shirts move through the rows, they move closer to completion. Prisoners on the first row sew in the shirt’s bottom hem. The next row works on the collar and the third makes sleeves. In the final row, the shirts are inspected, folded and packaged for shipping.

One of the more difficult tasks is cutting and sewing the sleeves. The plant’s goal for each sleeve maker is 300 per day. Inmate Anthony Morrison has been at the plant for 17 months and he makes an average of 420 sleeves a day.

"We take pride in our work," Morrison said. "We do it as a team. It takes all of us to make a shirt."

The medium security prison closed three years ago and now is home to the T-shirt plant and a highway sign reclamation plant.

"It’s the only sewing plant where prisoners are bused in and it’s the only prison cut and sew operation where minimum custody inmates work," said Mike Martin of Correction Enterprises. The prisoners make a 25-minute bus ride from Sanford Correctional Center every morning to the old prison. Sixty prisoners work in the prison’s sewing plant.

For years, the prison’s plant made correctional officers’ pants. Changing the workforce from the old prison’s medium custody inmates who would be there for several years to Sanford’s minimum custody inmates who may be there for only a few months meant changing the product.

"T-shirts are more forgiving and require less refined skills than pants," Martin said. "T-shirts are a better match for the minimum custody inmates who are learning a new skill and may work here only a short time."

The T-shirt operation actually begins in the old prison dormitory. It’s been converted into a training and cutting room. Prisoners sent to work at the plant first spend time with Mary Wilson.

"I explain the operation of the machine to them. Then I give them material and let them get the feel of the machine, how to feed the material and press with their foot," Wilson said. "When they’re smoothly sewing, then I’m ready to put them to work."

The plant’s 60 prisoners make about 270 dozen T-shirts every day. Incentive wages offered by Correction Enterprises offer the prisoners a chance to earn up to $3 a day, three times the wage possible in most prison jobs.