Iowa Prison Industries helps Hancher Auditorium with new uniforms

The Iowa Prison Industries is sewing uniforms for Hancher Auditorium. (Photo: Steffi Lee)

Behind the walls of the Iowa Prison Industries building in Mitchellville, it might resemble a clothing manufacturing company.

That's because the inmates from the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women who are involved with IPI are sewing brand new uniforms ushers will wear at the new Hancher Auditorium.

The women who are sewing the uniforms are hard at work from early morning until afternoon. It's their job.

"I'm on my fifth one right at the moment," inmate Linda Talbbet said Wednesday morning.

Talbbet's eyes are focused on every intricate stitch during her shift. And she takes pride in the work she's doing.

"My work is going to mean something and it's going to be a part of something permanent," Talbbet said.

She's one of around 10 inmates who are working on making just a little less than 200 uniforms. The designs were drawn by Iowa State University students and chosen by University of Iowa students.

Some inmates didn't know what Hancher was before the partnership.

"Not until they came," Avis Blair said.

But they're still making sure every finished jacket is perfect.

"I feel that the arts, the University of Iowa and the Hancher Auditorium are making a difference in the lives of these inmates," Hancher executive director Chuck Swanson said. "I feel like we've really done a spectacular thing."

Swanson said he's proud of the partnership because it brings the missions from both IPI and Hancher together for a larger purpose.

Iowa State University senior lecturer Brenda Ackerman oversees the production of the uniforms.

"They learn how to look at the work orders," Ackerman said. "They have to learn to read directions and follow those directions."

The women say learning about the steps they need to take, as well as cutting and sewing, turns into a sense of pride and ownership.

"They realize they have made mistakes and they are in here, but they are trying to get better and they are trying to better themselves so when they get out, they don't reoffend and come back in," plant manager Justin Opfer said.

Someday, they hope to take these skills if they get back outside.

"It makes us more of a success," Talbbet said.

"If I got out, I would definitely do this," Blair said.

As a way to say thank you to the inmates, Swanson says Hancher will bring in an artist to the facility to perform in late October.

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