Work at the
Southern Desert Correctional Center, Nevada
This year’s colossal
automotive aftermarket SEMA Show in Las Vegas was my best yet. Over the next few
months I will share some of what I learned with you.
Southern Desert Correctional Center, Nevada
This week I’m going to
tell you about an informative side trip that I took while there. For me it began
at the AutoWeek & Automotive News Specialty Vehicle Forum, which was held the
day before the SEMA Show began. I was lucky enough to be seated in front of
someone who told me that he was organizing a tour of the Southern Desert
Correctional Center, where I’d heard that Shelby Cobras are fabricated. He
invited me to join the small group, which I did a couple of days later when we
took a break from the SEMA Show.
Have you ever been to a
prison? I hadn’t. Nevertheless, seven of us met in Las Vegas for the drive out
to this medium security facility. The 35 mile car trip was long enough that we
had ample time to get to know each other along the way. I was fascinated to
learn that one of the people in our car was an extremely talented, up and coming
automotive designer. Luckily for us he had brought some of his sketches along,
and he shared them with us. His name is John McBride. Remember that name because
I have no doubt that he has the ability and drive to go far in this industry.
Once there we learned
the procedure necessary to enter the facility. Weapons like pocket knives, of
course, were not allowed. However, I was also required to turn in my keys and
driver’s license, prior to walking through a metal detector. Once we’d all
cleared these hurdles, we were led into a conference room where the warden of
the facility met with us, briefly explained their on-site work programs, and
made a point to tell us not to either take anything from, or give anything to,
the inmates who we would meet shortly. This was obviously important because when
the final two members of our group arrived, this instruction was repeated for
I soon learned why we
had been told not to wear blue jeans. That is what the inmates wear, so our
clothing needed to look different.
I also did not have to
be reminded to not lag behind our group as we walked through the various
buildings and the grounds of the facility. I was looking forward to being able
to return to Las Vegas and the SEMA Show.
My souvenir “NEVADA CORRECTIONS” patch
We were also told that
photography was not permitted. That is why I reproduced photos of the facility
from the brochure that the warden gave to each of us. The only photo that I took
myself was of the fabric patch that we were also given, as a souvenir. It says
“NEVADA CORRECTIONS.” I will keep it on display in my office.
The inmates of this
facility have great opportunities to learn valuable skills. These opportunities
are privileges which they must earn over time, and as we learned from the warden
they can lose them if they don’t follow the rules.
While inmates were there
working, we visited the fabrication shops for Shelby Cobras, Thomson
Trucking and Big House Choppers, and the restoration/upholstery/body &
paint shops for classic Mustangs and assorted customer vehicles.
In one shop, classic
Mustang bodies had been sent for restoration. The bodies of these cars were in
widely varying states of repair – from basically sound to barely salvageable.
The worst of these that I saw was one with numerous voids in the sheetmetal and
holes all over the place. Rust had obviously attacked this body like a vicious
cancer, making much of the remaining sheet metal and even the support structures
almost tissue paper thin. Incredibly, inmates were hard at work replacing the
bad metal as needed. When their restoration is complete, I suspect that these
cars will sell for substantial sums of money.
At Thomson Trucking,
older trucks were being restored so that they may resume their roles as
commercial work trucks. Newly fabricated water tanks (made elsewhere) were being
fitted to the fleet.
We were free to ask the
inmates and their supervisors questions, which we did. I was very impressed by
what I saw. Those inmates wise enough to take advantage of the opportunities
that they are given there should have no problem getting good jobs when and if
they return to life on the outside.
Personally, I think it
makes sense to give manufacturing work to prison inmates, who will gladly do
this work for a reduced rate, in exchange for the opportunities and experience.
While this undercuts domestic manufacturers with higher-paid workers, it
certainly seems to be better for our country than continuing to export our
skilled jobs to foreign countries. It also prepares inmates to be productive
members of our society.
We also got to see other
parts of the prison, which included the inside of an actual, two-person jail
cell. I think I've seen bigger, brighter walk-in closets. The sliding steel door
was ominous. While the cell did have a TV (which the inmates need to pay for),
there was also a sink, toilet and two stacked bunk beds occupying the tiny
space. I can't imagine living there.
When our tour was over
and I returned to the outside world, I felt a great sense of relief. Being there
was both an enlightening and a sobering experience.
The Great Seal of the State of Nevada
Hopefully I will be able
to return to visit again some day. Perhaps then we will be allowed to take some
pictures, too. I would very much like to share the highly skilled work that I
witnessed with you.
As always, please share your stories and send
your comments to
AutoMatters@gmail.com. Enjoy the archives and more at
www.AutoMatters.net. Drive safely and do join me again next time.
Copyright © 2005, 2006 Jan R. Wagner – #165r1