Building a better future

Eye on KELOLAND

From filling out applications to showing up on time every day, there are several steps you have to take to land and keep a job.

But those rules don’t just apply to the traditional workforce.

Michael LeBeaux works up to 35 hours a week.

“Friday I’m ready for the weekend; Sunday I’m ready to come back to work,” Inmate Michael LeBeaux said.

It’s easy to get lost in the tedious work of designing and producing braille.

“The day flies. You get to work and the next thing you know it’s time to go,” LeBeaux said.

But when he clocks out for the day, he doesn’t battle rush hour traffic to get home.

LeBeaux is in prison.

He earns $0.50 an hour as a team leader in the braille shop at the South Dakota State Penitentiary.

“It ain’t much, but it’s something to work for,” LeBeaux said. 

The braille shop is one of the offerings of Pheasantland Industries, a division of the South Dakota Department of Corrections.

The inmates make a variety of items here at the braille shop, including text books for kids at school.

“I was kind of nervous about coming to the braille shop because people say, “It’s hard over there.  It’s not for everybody.” They’re not lying. It’s definitely not for everybody, but it’s fulfilling. You get that feeling of ‘I did something today,'” LeBeaux said.

But Pheasantland Industries has several other shops inmates can fill out applications for, including garments, laser engraving, signs, and carpentry.

“We make all sorts of awesome things, anywhere from designing a custom kitchen to the road signs you see on the highway every day,” Pheasantland Industries Director Stefany Bawek said.

In fact, from restoring old books to making sensory animals, there’s not much the inmates can’t make or fix.

Pheasantland Industries’ customer-base is largely made up of state and government agencies, non-profits, churches, and schools.

“We got these signs all over the shop that says “Don’t forget who you’re doing it for.” Regardless of whether we’re in prison or not, you always got to keep that in the back of your mind,” LeBeaux said.

But LeBeaux and the rest of the inmates are getting something in return.

“The majority of the men and women that work for Pheasantland Industries will return to regular society. They need to have those skills to be successful because our overall goal is they don’t come back,” Bawek said.

“It takes a lot of the stress away. It takes a lot of the depression away because we can come over here and we can actually be beneficial with doing our time and learn something for when we do get out,” LeBeaux said.

When that day comes, he’ll be able to use the skills he learned inside the braille shop outside prison walls.

Pheasantland Industries also has shops at the South Dakota Women’s Prison and the Mike Durfee State Prision.

If you’d like to tour Pheasantland Industries, you can call 605-367-5111.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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