SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Rocky Mendenhall could be a recruiter for the industry he works for. His view of his job is positive, he understands his assignments and knows his superiors care about him not just as an employee but as a person. He has developed an understanding of what it takes to excel in the workforce and he has high hopes that his next profession can become another building block to help him achieve his goals.
“We are not all bad people we just made some bad choices,” Mendenhall said. “We’re learning and we’re moving forward and I think this is a good platform to get out and get back in the community. Because not all of us are gonna be here forever. We need these skills and this is a good place to start.”
Mendenhall currently works in the license plate division at UCI and is taking classes for work and life skills as well as mental health and addiction recovery courses. He is utilizing some of the building blocks that he is hoping will help him when he gets out of prison.
“[All of this] and the classes I’m taking it’s all part of the foundation. You don’t build a new house on a crappy foundation you have to start from the bottom and work your way up and that’s what this is,” he told ABC4.
UCI has been part of the Utah prison system since the territorial prison of the late 1800s. Early inmate work teams consisted of chain gangs and later involved manufacturing license plates and signs. Today UCI is a division of the Utah Department of Corrections with 12 work programs in the state’s two prison facilities. With over 400 inmate work participants producing services for state and local government agencies.
The UCI facility houses a variety of occupations.
The welding shop was utilized during the construction of the new facility including fabricating exercise equipment and heavy-duty fixture throughout the prison.
Other inmates use a steady hand to craft high-end upholstered furniture while their colleagues use sanders and saws to craft beautiful desks and shelves.
Many visitors to the Salt Lake Airport can witness the handiwork of the canvas print shop while passing large canvas photos of Utah scenery.
If you have ever received a letter or business card from a state agency, it passed through the hands and well-cared-for printing presses of UCI Inmate workers.
The products and services produced at UCI are evident throughout the daily lives of Utah residents from the license plates on their cars to the street signs they follow. All services that Utah Correctional officials are making a difference in the choices inmates make while incarcerated and when they are released.
The program was designed to decrease recidivism and put former inmates in a position to be successful when they are back in society.
“We actually hear from individuals after they leave, going out and actually being able to create not only a job but a career,” reports Shane Welch, Director of UCI. “A successful career where they can support families, sustain their families, take care of their children, and actually have a productive life where they’re not actually returning back into a prison system.”
Once given a work opportunity, inmates are expected to perform the duties given and excel in their understanding of the day-to-day operations. Inmates can learn manufacturing techniques, operations management, purchasing, computer programs, customer service, construction trades, and many other skills. UCI provides leading-edge technology, machinery, and trained professional staff to enhance the inmate’s skills and performance.
UCI is able to successfully fulfill its financial operating obligations by selling the goods and services produced by the inmate work program. The program does research to make sure it is keeping up with the current market and assuring the products and services it offers meet or exceed current trends. Like any other business, UCI strives to be competitive in all aspects of operations.
When asked what he has learned since beginning work in the UCI program Mendenhall answers confidently.
“Humility. We are held accountable there is structure here. Inmates lead inmates. So basically the bosses are people that wear the same clothes we do so we work as a team. Not one person is better than another we are all together in this that’s what makes it unity in here.” Mendenhall continues with conviction, “For me it’s a separation from what goes on in the section and the unit versus coming here It’s a positive environment the bosses are good to us. They treat us like we’re people and it makes us wanna do better when we get out ’cause this is like a stepping stone to get back in the workforce.”
For more information about products and services offered to the general public and state consumers, you can visit the UCI website.