An ‘eggs-troidinary’ partnership celebrates 20 years
By CAROLYN DRYER
Egg ranch and inmates share success stories
It was what some might say was a “sunny side up” event with soft-boiled comments about a program that utilized hard-boiled offenders and turned them into hard workers with capitalistic ethics as hard as morning sausage cooked to the texture of hockey pucks.
Hickman’s Family Farms celebrated a 20-year partnership with the Arizona Correctional Institutes last Friday that “teaches, trains, and employs” offenders, all of whom are serving sentences in prisons under the control of the Arizona Department of Corrections.
Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman, who handles marketing for HFF, emceed the celebratory luncheon at the Wigwam Resort, but he turned over much of the presentation to his brother, Billy, vice president of operations for HFF, who he called “the boots on the ground” for the inmate program.
Billy Hickman said the relationship with ACI and Arizona DOC is important to his family, as well as the company itself. He said although the program, which started in 1995, has gone through different management and different directions, its purpose remains the same: Put people to work and expand their skill set.
He said, “It’s almost surreal how you see people’s performances get higher.”
After describing his first meeting with then (and now) Arizona DOC Director Charles Ryan about the inmate proposal, Billy Hickman said the AzDOC people always made sure children were safe working in the plant. He said there are close to 300 inmate workers at the egg ranch; the program started with eight to 10 men from the Perryville prison. They were put to work repairing and assembling cages.
The prisoners’ work impressed the Hickman family so much that the workforce was expanded to include filling in the labor force gaps at the plant.
During the luncheon, a video featured offender comments about the work program, voicing gratitude for the work that helped them learn a trade and a good work ethic.
One inmate said, “I know there’s more to life than what I was doing before.”
Another inmate said, “Without the Hickman program, people have less of a chance when they get out.”
One former inmate is now a supervisor in the pullet division. He has been employed by HFF five years.
“I hope this continues on into perpetuity,” Billy Hickman said.
One former inmate has been an employee at HFF for 16 years.
Paul Yeatts, now a complex supervisor, said first, “I’ve been crime-free 16 years.”
He said success is measured in many ways and at many levels.
“I have a passport, I have a voter registration, and restoration of all my civil rights. I own a home, motorcycles, dogs, I have debts, and we pay taxes,” Yeatts said, referring to his wife. “Our success is becoming a working, tax-paying American family.”
He said the inmate worker program transition back into civilian life provides a structure outside the prison.
“A good job creates commitment, a sense of loyalty, respect for others and their property,” Yeatts said. “The key is opportunity. To DOC, ACI and the Hickmans, we say thank you for the tenacity and opportunity it provides.
“The biggest gain – the ability to give back, encourage, be charitable. We’re able to give back, and dad gum it, that feels good.”
DOC Director Ryan stood at the podium and pointed to Yeatts as “a testament to the extraordinary relationship between HFF, DOC and ACI … To date, Hickman’s has trained (inmates for) 2,500 production pullet hours; almost 4.7 million hours by inmates.”
Regarding Yeatts, Ryan said, “We should all be encouraged by that. It provides inmates meaningful work opportunities. Our work programs are more successful with lower recidivism rates.
“Taxpayers have seen the savings, too; more than $5 million alone from the Hickman relationship. Hickman’s should be an inspiration to other businesses.”
Before he left the podium, Ryan presented each of the HFF family members with a special AzDOC coin which features the word PRICE, the motto the department lives by: Professionalism, Responsibility, Integrity, Courage and Efficiency.
Next up, company president Glenn Hickman, who called himself “a degenerate capitalist,” gave a good reason for his family’s commitment to the inmate worker program. He said $30,000 per year is the cost of incarceration per prisoner. His remarks were made after he asked one table of former inmates who now work for Hickman’s to stand up and be recognized.
“This group that just stood up average north of $30,000,” Glenn Hickman said. “No matter how you cut it, society benefits from a program like this.”
The last order of business was a check for $25,000 presented by Hickman’s Family Farms to Ryan at the AzDOC. The check was dedicated to the Fallen Employee Fund.
An AzDOC spokesperson said there is an effort beginning to build a memorial on the grounds of the agency to honor employees killed in the line of duty. over the years.