After racking up nearly $I million in sales in the Northwest—the G.I. Joe's chain alone has sold 11,000 pairs of $20 Prison Blues in the past 18 months—the prison recently shipped 4,000 pairs, each bearing a bright orange INMATE stamp down the left leg, to Japan. (Jeans sold in the U.S. don't carry the stamp.) Explains Prison Blues exporter Tom Frost: "The Japanese are fascinated with the dangerous mystique of America."
Forty-three inmates at the medium-security facility (200 are on the waiting list for jobs there) manufacture the jeans, T-shirts and other items for considerably higher pay than inmates earn for other prison work: $4.75 to $6 an hour, with 80 percent deducted for such things as drug and alcohol counseling, family support, taxes and victim's restitution. Says sex offender Hank Barth, 39: "If you do this job for a couple years, you're going to leave with enough money to get a nice little apartment and some used furniture."
Some of the prisoners have a hard time fathoming the perverse appeal of their products. Says Robert Padgett, 27, serving 34½ years for kidnapping, attempted rape and robbery: "I can't understand why anybody on the outside would want to wear a pair of jeans that have INMATE stamped on them. Being in prison is not really something to brag about."