Featured Shop: Anamosa Sign Shop

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The smell of ink and solvents lingers outside the shop door. The scented fumes escape the building through any opening they can find. Inside the shop, the humming of fans consumes every other sound. It’s almost numbing, how stimulated your senses become.

Around the shop, men are positioned at their stations, cleaning up after their last project or beginning a new one. There’s no time to be wasted. Surrounding the workspaces, glistening signs rest in vertical drying racks, and a library of screen printing frames wait for their turn to be used.

The workers move swiftly and confidently as they align screen frames with blank sheets of aluminum. In just a few minutes, a silver sheet becomes a brightly colored sign with the freshest coat of ink possible.

The Sign Shop is one of Anamosa’s largest shops in regard to sales and incarcerated individual work hours. Annually, an average of 40 incarcerated individuals are trained by the shop, which amounts to about 85,000 hours of training each year. The shop is able to produce a wide variety of products, from street markers to school banners, and reaches a yearly sales total above $3 million.

In addition to screen printing, some signs are printed on inkjet reflective or non-reflective materials and affixed to the aluminum sheets.

The Sign shop allows employees to become familiar with a variety of printing technology. A few incarcerated individuals use software to create the designs, and others manage and operate the printing machines. Photographed below, incarcerated individuals oversee the printing of a large banner for a customer.

Printing large banner

A strong work ethic is valued in any IPI shop, but it’s especially noticed in the Sign Shop. An incarcerated individual said that working in the shop “requires having and using all of my shop knowledge on a regular basis to perform my job.” He also said “acquiring a strong work ethic” has been one of his greatest accomplishments since beginning the training program. “I’ve learned to set goals and use all my resources to achieve those goals,” he said.

“I have seen Individuals start in our program with no work experience or work ethic whatsoever.” said Jared Ash, IPI Senior Technician in the Sign Shop. “After time with training and encouragement you see each person grow. Showing up to work on time, eager to do a good job, work on problem solving skills, along with coming up with ideas to better our products that we offer to our customers.

83rd Ave. Street Sign

“I like that my job contains many different tasks,” said an incarcerated individual. “It allows me to stay stimulated throughout the course of the day.”

Jared explained how these programs are proven to reduce recidivism when the incarcerated individuals are released back into society. “If they can be productive, hard working, and reliable in the job market after release I feel that we have done a great job not only for them, but for all people they may have contact with.”

Follow Iowa Prison Industries on social media to see more from the Anamosa Sign Shop throughout the month. For more information on the Anamosa plant, please contact Plant Manager Al Reiter at 319-462-3439 or al.reiter@iowa.gov.

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