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North Dakota inmates help fill demand for masks in pandemic

August 3, 2020 GMT

JAMESTOWN, N.D. (AP) — Incarcerated individuals employed by an North Dakota agency are making masks and other items that are used to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Rough Rider Industries workers at the James River Correctional Center in Jamestown have made about 57,000 masks as of June. Rick Gardner, director of Rough Rider, said they’re on track to make 100,000 masks by the end of August.

“The guys I work with always want to give back to society,” Gardner told the Bismarck Tribune.

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Rough Rider allows North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation inmates on good behavior to make money and learn skills that will prepare them for their release. The agency is self-funded, according to its website.

The agency’s first order was from the U.S. military for 12,000 masks, and the University of North Dakota followed with a recent order of 32,000 masks. They can make 6,000 masks a week.

Crews usually work five 10-hour days, Gardner said. But sometimes they work on weekends.

“It gives so many different employees the opportunity to work,” said 25-year-old Alex Clapper, who has been sewing with Rough Rider for almost five years. “Everyone involved actually works really hard for it.”

Crews also make utility gowns, wellness signs and floor graphics for social distancing.

The workers see that they’re not only helping themselves but others, too, Clapper said.

“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “You know you’re doing something to show not all prisoners are bad people.”