Prison Outlet Store offers unusual gifts - East Valley Tribune: News

Prison Outlet Store offers unusual gifts

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Posted: Sunday, December 16, 2007 9:11 pm | Updated: 6:38 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Florence’s Prison Outlet Store may be just the place to find a Christmas gift for that legendary person who has everything.

The outlet, at state Route 79 and Butte Avenue in Florence, has dark, wooden walls adorned with paintings and charcoal drawings. Racks and shelves loaded with handmade belts, origami statues, dream-catchers, jewelry and metal work make the small shop seem even smaller.

Everything in the Prison Outlet Store was made by Arizona prison inmates. It’s a program that allows prisoners to apply their talents to make money to pay taxes and restitution.

Inmates selling their wares at the store earn 75 percent of the proceeds.

Selling their work has allowed prisoners to contribute millions to taxes and restitution, said Christine Lansford, who manages the retail operation for the Arizona Department of Corrections.

“Items cost anywhere from $1 to several thousand,” Lansford said.

She quickly shows off an intricately carved walrus jawbone boasting a price tag of $1,750.

Inmates have restricted access to supplies, with much of the limitation stipulated by their security clearances. But they get creative with anything they come in contact with — one inmate crafting picture frames out of tobacco and potato chip packages.

“Some (inmates) have formal training or learn from other inmates,” Lansford said of their skills. “Some of these items aren’t made from normal materials. They really get creative.”

Other unique sales items include purses made of motorcycle license plates and painted bottle caps for $26, flowers shaped from bread and melted candy for $6, and birdhouses made from a variety of objects for about $25.

“If you’ve got somebody who’s impossible to buy for, you can find something here,” Lansford said.

The store does about 80 percent of its business between October and January, Lansford said. Some of the work is also available for sale at the Arizona Department of Corrections Web site, www.aci.az.gov.

The store also offers hand-painted Christmas cards. And online, people can order Christmas cookies and pumpkin pies.

Nolberto Machiche, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Corrections, said the work gives inmates a sense of pride and a sense of privilege.

“We get Christmas cards and thank you cards from the inmates for allowing them to support their families,” Lansford said. “It’s a positive thing they can do when they’re out, too.”

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