Ever since the 1930s, tourists and locals have flocked to the Maine State Prison Showroom in Thomaston, Maine (sometimes in Windham) to avail of affordable handmade homegoods such as jewelry boxes to toys. These handcrafted items attract buyers like a Black Friday sale, with most people coming in dozens of patrons as the shop opens early and products are available at discounted prices.
And they’re all created, designed, and built by inmates at the Maine State Prison.
The correctional program has had positive benefits to both the community and the prisoners, as told by Upworthy. According to an article in the site, the program “gives inmates a chance to gain real-world skills that will help them contribute to society once they’ve been released.”
This means the way the inmates become involved in the program is reflective of the outside world. They don’t just simply get into the program. Instead, they go work they way up through staff recommendations.
“It took me almost a year to get in,” one inmate said in a video called “No Idle Hands”. “Remember it’s a state prison–you don’t just hand out shop tools to anybody.”
The program also teaches inmates people skills. “You have to get along, learn people skills,” said shop manager Ken Lindsey in article by Portland Press Herald. “When you get out, on the streets, you might have someone you don’t like, but you have to work for them.”
He said inmates who participate in the program must be working toward high-school equivalency diplomas and enroll in anger management or substance abuse counseling. They can then apply for a job in the program where they must be hired, he added.
Lindsey said the inmates each earn between $1 and $3 an hour, which is more than enough for them to pay off court restitution fees and child support.
Here are some of the beautiful handicrafts they make:
“When they get out, are they all going to become wood workers? Probably not. But they’ll build skills,” Lindsey said. “As long as you’re willing to learn.”
The program is self-funded and brings in almost $2 million in revenue each year, an income which is used to pay for supplies and creating more employment opportunities.
“This program is perfect for helping people who don’t have any skills to do something . . . instead of robbing and cheating,” as was said in the video.
“When it’s all done you see the finished product and it gives you a lot of pride,” one inmate said.
“You accomplished something. You acquired skills. You earned it,” said another.