Featured Shop: Mitchellville

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Sewing machines are chattering, fans are humming and scissors are crunching as women turn materials and thread into quality products at the Iowa Prison Industries Mitchellville Plant in Mitchellville, Iowa.

Two steps inside the plant door is all it takes to realize the level of skill and efficiency required to maintain the work the incarcerated individuals produce here.

Each work day at the Mitchellville Plant begins with a morning meeting. During this time, staff and employees discuss goals and expectations for the day. Assignments are delivered, and they begin working on their next project. Machines start warming up, tools are gripped in skillful hands, and items begin to be checked off the to-do list. The team meets again in the afternoon to assess their progress.

The women working in the Mitchellville Plant pay close attention to detail while also keeping up with the busy pace. Their scrutinizing eyes are able to detect stray threads, uneven lines and loose fabric. Each of the women here have an important role in the process of fulfilling orders with quality products, and they take pride in their ability to do so.

Several of the women have mastered textile machines and tools, while others have become proficient in computer software and programs. But most important is the number of incarcerated individuals who’ve learned valuable teamwork, leadership and communication skills. These are the valuable traits IPI staff hope to see them exit the program with.

“I’ve seen incarcerated women step up and take charge in their areas to make sure things are accomplished,” said Jim Pinegar, Industries Technician at the Mitchellville Plant. “Seeing them become productive and proud of their work motivates me.”

Most of the women working in the Mitchellville Plant have had previous work experience, but some of them have gained additional expertise with IPI that has shaped their plans for the future. One of these women, Emma*, previously worked in an office setting but hopes to continue in the textiles industry after she leaves the job-training program.

“I have learned each machine on the textiles line,” said Emma*, “I am currently the team trainer. I have strengthened my communication skills. I plan to continue in a textiles factory position and continue to grow my knowledge of fabrics.”

Emma said she has been most impacted by “the general encouragement and recognition of improvement” in the Mitchellville Plant and is grateful for the apprenticeship programs and knowledge of materials she’s had access to.

Around the Mitchellville Shop, women encourage each other as they continue to put their skills to the test and learn new techniques. Pictured above, one incarcerated individual trains another how to use the fabric cutting machine.

The women are eager to share knowledge they’ve gained and can walk you through the production process step by step. Pictured above, a woman from the framing division demonstrates how she completes a frame.

The IPI shop in Mitchellville opened in 2000 with a focus on Panels and Seating. The women working with IPI at that time produced office chairs, lounge seating and modular panel systems. Incarcerated individuals in the program at Mitchellville continue to fill these types of orders today.

In 2005, upholstery work moved from the Fort Madison Shop to the Mitchellville Plant, adding to the list of skills incarcerated women could be trained in and increasing their number of projects. The woman in the picture above is working on a reupholstery order for a university in Iowa.

The Mitchellville Plant saw the greatest growth in 2008, when the Plastic Bag, Housekeeping & Chemicals and Textiles divisions were settled under its roof. Today, between 20-30 women are part of the IPI job-training program in Mitchellville.

For more information about IPI’s Mitchellville Plant, visit the shop’s page or contact Plant Manager Justin Opfer at 515-725-5310 or justin.opfer@iowa.gov.

*Indicates name change for confidentiality of identity.

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