AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. – You and I don't usually get to see them. But behind the walls of the Airway Heights Corrections Center, hundreds of inmates are going to work every day, and the benefits go far beyond the prison system.
That's because Director of Correctional Industries Lyle Morse says those who work while serving time are less likely to reoffend when released. They learn job skills, and social skills – like how to work as a team – and in the process, develop self-esteem.
Because of that, there's a tangible savings to taxpayers. Morse says for every dollar that goes into the Correctional Industries program, and estimated $32 is saved from future incarceration, and costs to victims and the legal system.
One of the inmate workers at the commissary is Roger Alderman. He's lived in a cell in Airway Heights for the last 32 years, and is up for parole in another 8.
"I'm doing three life sentences, I'm on the third one right now," he told KHQ.
Convicted for armed robberies and burglaries, Alderman's spend the last three decades working within the prison walls at various jobs.
"I've always been under the conception that I got myself here, so I have to support myself," he said.
Roughly 22% of the inmates at Airway Heights do have jobs, 90% of those are within the walls of the compound. Their pay begins at .55 cents an hour, and can reach $1.65. But up to 70% is withheld for prison costs, legal fees, victim's compensation and mandatory savings.
"We're just a mini society, just like on the streets," he added.
Morse says 50% of the inmates who arrive at Airway Heights have never had a job in their lives, and the competition for the positions is steep.
No taxpayer dollars are used for the program; Correctional Industries supports itself. It generates $50 million a year by selling products like furniture and baked goods back to local nonprofits, schools, and state-supported agencies.
"We have a bakery, food factory, we make eyeglasses here, industrial sewing and the commissary," he said. "Jobs make prisons safe… Work isn't punishment, work is what gives us meaning in our life."
For Roger Alderman, while he can't go back and change what happened, he's learning how to move forward.
"There's so much I regret, I've thought a lot of times about how it would be nice to go back in time and change a lot of stuff."