THOMASTON, Maine — Ken and Judy Carreras got up before sunrise and drove for an hour to find their Black Friday treasure — an acorn-shaped birdfeeder crafted by an inmate in Maine State Prison.
“For me, I would much rather spend the money on something that is locally crafted,” Judy Carreras of Stockton Springs said as the couple and other patrons huddled in their cars in subfreezing temperatures, waiting for the prison’s craft showroom to open.
The sale at the Thomaston showroom, four miles from Maine State Prison in Warren, resembled a traditional Black Friday sale in many ways. The store opened an hour early, at 8 a.m., and reduced prices by 40 percent. A similar sale took place in the Maine Prison Industries outlet store in Windham, which cut prices 30 percent.
The Thomaston showroom attracted dozens of cars full of patrons in its first hour as buyers ogled ornamental wooden ball-and-chain sets and checked prices on porch furniture. Bookshelves, children’s toys, paintings, cutting boards, rocking horses and even models of the USS Constitution — all made as part of an inmate work program — were also on sale to the public.
Items range from $1.95 pencil holders to a $100,000 sculpture of the Roman god Neptune and a mermaid riding a motorcycle. The USS Constitution models, which retail for $2,150, were sold out by midday Friday.
Maine Prison Industries manager Ken Lindsey said sales from the work program total more than $1 million per year. Prisoners are paid $1 to $3 per hour, which must first go toward court restitution and child support payments, but more importantly, the program teaches inmates job skills and people skills that they can use on release, Lindsey said.
“We have, possibly, a murderer working next to child molester or a pedophile,” Lindsey said. “You have to get along, learn people skills. When you get out, on the streets, you might have someone you don’t like, but you have to work for them.”
The showroom does not advertise which inmates made specific handicrafts, but most of the prisoners who have been at the lockup for “any amount of time have probably had an opportunity” to work in the program, he said.