MITCHELLVILLE — Sewing machines hum inside the Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville as inmates focus on the day’s work — taking 18 pieces of soft, smooth wool and turning them into uniform jackets.
As thread from 3-inch-tall spools is spun into the fabric, the black-with-green-trim and green-with-black-trim blazers begin to take shape. Come September, they’ll be worn by the ushers at the University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium.
“I love this,” says Avis Blair, 60, an inmate at Mitchellville, who is one of eight women helping to make the uniforms as an employee of Iowa Prison Industries, the work arm of the Iowa Department of Corrections.
Iowa Prison Industries landed the project through a partnership with Iowa State University, where the Hancher usher uniforms were designed by students.
“Part of Hancher’s mission is that we strive to reach the lives of every Iowan with transformative artistic experiences,” Chuck Swanson, executive director of Hancher, said Wednesday during a tour at the prison. “It was a little bit of a risk for us to start something that is going to be so visible, but as soon as I walked into the building, I felt so good about it.”