TONOPAH, Ariz. (KSAZ) - A line-up, a search, and a secured bus ride. It's not a shakedown; it's a commute to work. Seven days a week inmates serving time behind the walls of Arizona prisons get out and get a taste of civilian life: exchanging a prison cell and a prison yard for a hair net or a welder's helmet, and they go to work at Hickman's Egg Farm.
"Everybody makes mistakes, I was young when I made my mistake, and I'm gonna get out and be a different person," said James Ali.
Ali like all participants in the program is not a violent offender. When FOX 10 spoke with him, he was helping build a new barn at Hickman's Tonopah egg farm. His job, stick-welding is a skill he learned on the job. When he gets out in two years, he will have a new skill. "I'm looking forward to a new start and a new career welding somewhere," he said.
Ali is one of 300 inmates working for Hickman's right now. They do everything from sorting the eggs, to loading the trucks, pest control, construction, you name it. This all started with Hickman's out of necessity back in the 1990's.
"Our economy was roaring, and there weren't a lot of people available to do dirty and stinky farm work," said Glenn Hickman.
So Hickman's turned to an agency called Arizona Correctional Industries, which supplies inmate workers to companies who want them.
"There's no absentee issues, no carpooling issues, no babysitting issues, and people who do have skills can demonstrate they can put those skills to work in this type of business," said AZ Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan.
"It changed my life, and I'm helping them change their life and give back to the community," said Courtney Reynolds.
Reynolds started working for Hickman's as an inmate 10-years-ago. When he was released from prison, he kept his job, rose through the ranks, and is now a project manager.
"If you're gonna give a guy a skill, learn how to use some tools, how to use some equipment, contributing to social security. Why wouldn't they do that, than release them with nothing, so they go back to committing crimes?" said Reynolds.
The AZ DOC says the workers in the program are less likely to end up back in jail after they are arrested.
All the inmates, they get to keep about $1.50 an hour. It's a financial win-win for taxpayers. In the last fiscal year the inmate workers at Hickman's contributed nearly $1 million toward their own cost of being housed in prison, that's a million dollars that didn't come out of the state's budget. Workers here see more than financial rewards.
"I did some wrong in my past, with this program, with these guys that are incarcerated, they know my story. They see that I've changed my life, if I change just one of their lives, I'm helping society," said Reynolds.