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Start-Up Apparel Company Rests Its Fortunes on Back of Prisoner Labor

A new company, Tight Lines Y’all, has started operations thanks to the availability of prisoner labor to produce its signature items. When Terry Lewis became inspired to start a company he faced the usual obstacles of needing a location and employees.

Prison Industries, a division of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDOC), offered an avenue for eliminating those obstacles. It would provide labor in a prison building to produce Tight Lines Y’all “3N1” bow ties, which is made from three separate pieces of material and can be tied in a multiple of ways to produce the look of different ties.

To do business with Prison Industries, companies cannot have a current operation in the United States. “We are not going to let them close down a business to come to us,” said Phil Burckhalter, director of Prison Industries. We are looking for someone to grow their business or bring back a phase of their business that is outside the United States.”

They also welcomed start-ups such as Tight Lines Y’all, which founder Terry Jones says allowed him to save 25 percent in labor. “It was a good fit for me,” he said. “I wouldn’t have to buy a building, worry about worker’s compensation, and health benefits, no retirement… we don’t have to worry about them calling sick – they’ll put someone in to do it. I’m paying monetary amounts and they’ll take care of all the things related to an employee.”

The prisoners earn from $7.25 to $10 an hour. Portions of their pay go to paying taxes, victim restitution, room and board, and resources for reentry programs. Their labor creates ties that are sold for $65 each; for $85 the ties come in a wooden box burned with the company logo and engraved with the recipient’s name. The box is also produced by prisoners. While Tight Lines Y’all relies solely on prison labor to make its products, no mention of that fact is made on its website.

Prison Industries has about 1,345 prisoners who labor at various jobs that range from refurbishing golf carts to planting trees. “We welcome all comers,” said SCDOC director Bryan Stirling. “We have to see if we have the ability to do it and see if it’s a good fit for them.”


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