Prison Inmates Assist Low-Income Families

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With a Masters Degree and attempted murder conviction, neither one was taken into account when Ralph Hrobowski interviewed for his job. He was hired to type up eye glass orders at the Dixon Prison, just part of the eye-glass-making process that goes on there.

"Knowing that it's giving something back that's one of the key elements of being in prison you realize the mistakes you've made and now you want to rectify that by dong something positive to give back to society," Hrobowski says.

Society needs these glasses now more than ever. A struggling economy has caused orders from the Department of Health and Family Services, non-profit organizations and Corrections to go up nearly 18-percent. That's requiring a lot of overtime from the 93 inmates employed.

Joseph Harvey likes the extra work. He makes shipping labels by using various computer programs. The eduction and lifestyle he says will help prevent him from committing another crime.

"If you told me today you could go home now I'd be willing to work for nothing just to be in society and work my way into society rather than dropping someone off hoping they'd be better," he says.

245-thousand eye glass orders are expected to be filled this fiscal year, sales projected at six million dollars. Each pair takes about ten days to make, with just one-percent of them returned with flaws.

For security purposes, all tools are locked and secured on a shadow board and then assigned to each inmate. If any part of the tool is missing, that inmate could be disciplined.

Only inmates without discipline issues are hired. They must also test at an 8th grade level. And have three-to-seven years left of their sentence.

"I have 358 inmate applications on file fight now it takes an inmate approximately 4-7 years once he's given me an application to get a job over here," Gary Lopac, of Illinois Correctional Industries at the Dixon Prison.

There's very little turn-over when you have the highest paying job, At $2.61 an hour. With their salaries, Harvey buys stamps for letters, Hrobowski helped put two kids through college.

Authorities at the Department of Corrections say there are no tax dollars used in the eye glass operation. Employed inmates get a paycheck once a month, and three percent of that goes to restitution. Those who will wear these glasses have State health care, like 'All Kids'. They're also carried at Crusader Clinic.

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