SPARKS, Nev. (KOLO) -- A business designed to supply inmates with items they're allowed to have is booming. It's called Walkenhorst's and is inside a 75,000-square-foot warehouse in Sparks.
Employees at Walkenhorst's work to fill orders for prison inmates all over the United States.
Workers walk up and down long isles to fill about 1,000 orders a day. Each order can contain many individual items. They're shipped to prisons all over the United States.
The company recently moved from Napa, California to 445 Ingenuity Avenue in Sparks.
"We built the same building here. This building is about twice the size for what we could do there for about the same investment," says Vice President Stewart Walkenhorst.
"There are many people just like you and me that simply made a mistake somewhere, or maybe they got involved with an addiction and they're doing their best to overcome it, but many of them are good people that just want to do their time and get out and get back on with life," Walkenhorst continues.
People turn to Walkenhorst's to have things shipped to their loved ones in prison hassle-free. Walkenhorst's handles all the security requirements that can be strict, and they can vary widely from prison to prison.
"It was easier on the officers. It was more convenient for the inmate. It's more convenient for the family just to call us and ask us what to do and we took care of the customer and we grew," Walkenhorst said.
The top selling item by bulk is the spicy Chicken Chilli Ramen Noodles. The top selling item by sheer sales in dollars is the 13-inch TV.
Stewart credits the massive growth of his business to the three-strike rule in California. He says it resulted in dramatic prison population growth across the nation.
Security is a top priority. Most orders come in through the company's website or by phone into a call center at the Sparks facility. Twenty-five of the 80 cubicles are in use right now. They should all be filled in two or three years.
"The order entry staff has no access to the warehouse," Stewart says.
"They put the order in. They know who is placing the order, where it's going, they know what's on the order," Stewart says.
A picker uses a radio frequency gun to scan the order. The gun will guide the picker to all the items for one order, but the picker is not supposed to know who the order is for.
"Then it goes on to the conveyor and goes to a packer. Again, the packer has no idea who that order is for. He has no idea who that order is going to. He just knows those items go in that box," Walkenhorst says. "So he packs it up. It goes on to another conveyor belt and goes onto a labeling machine and there it gets scanned by the order number and then it gets a label; at that point we know what facility it's going to, but there is still no number or no name on that order."
"The order is shipped to the facility and then we'll send a manifest that tells what order goes to which inmate. When it finally gets there, a correctional officer will assign that box to a specific inmate based on the numbers," Stewart says.
The process is designed to prevent people from smuggling things to inmates inside a prison. Walkenhorst's does most of its business with California, followed by Ohio, Maryland, New York and New Mexico.
Up to 130 people work at Walkenhorst's, but it's not enough.
"It is really, really busy," says Shipping Manager Alex Posey.
The company is hiring workers to keep up with the growing demand from across the nation. Steward projects the company will grow between 10 and 20 percent in the years to come.
Workers are paid $12.50 an hour, but there are incentives based on the number of orders filled.
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