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Got Those Jailhouse Blues?

August 30, 1993| Associated Press

PENDLETON, Ore. — A line of rugged work jeans made by prison inmates, already on the shelves at some of the Northwest's more fashionable department stores, is becoming a hit in international markets.

Intended to give idle inmates work experience, prisoners at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution produce 300 pairs of "Riggers" a day.

Unigroup, the state agency that markets the jeans, has visited Central Europe, Australia and Brazil to introduce the prison wear globally. Japanese retailer Leadworks International ordered 3,000 pair of Riggers just last week.

"Riggers are real. We're seeing real live orders," said Brent Wakeman, manager of the prison factory where 35 inmates work all week producing blue jeans, work shirts and denim jackets.

Some of the duds sold overseas feature a leather "Prison Blues" label, an orange look-alike Department of Corrections logo and the word "INMATE" stamped across the front and back.

Unigroup export consultant Tom Frost predicts that in a year, 10,000 to 12,000 Prison Blues garments will be exported each month, and prison officials expect the number of inmate workers to jump to 100 or more.

Prison Blues, introduced in Oregon in 1990, have been stocked at Nordstrom, Meier & Frank and G.I. Joe's department stores, and Pendleton Grain Growers in Eastern Oregon.

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