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|Hilltop Unit Garment Factory supervisor Jose Ligas inspects finished
Photos by David Nunnelee
O'er the ramparts of the Clements Unit in Amarillo, there waves a battle-tested Star-Spangled Banner. Months after first being hoisted over the maximum-security facility, the American flag of broad stripes and bright stars has withstood all that Mother Nature has thrown at her - wind, rain and snow - and continues to wave unscathed from dawn's early light
to twilight's last gleaming.
The four-foot by six-foot nylon flag was one of the first to come off the production line at the Hilltop Unit garment factory in Gatesville, where both Texas and United States flags are now stitched. It was shipped to Clements to test its durability in different weather conditions over time. In late February, the flag was still there.
"We chose the location because of the extreme weather patterns up there," said Ron Hudson, manager of Texas Correctional Industries' Garment and Textile Division. "We've been flying it there all winter and it still looks brand new."
The TCI garment factory at Hilltop has produced Texas state flags for decades and now makes between 15,000 and 20,000 of the Lone Star banners annually. Eventually, TCI plans to produce an equal number of U.S. flags for their customers.
"The same customers who buy our Texas flag are now going to be able to buy both flags from us," Hudson said.
Texas state flags from the Hilltop factory are routinely flown over the state Capitol Building and then presented by lawmakers as tokens of appreciation. Many others are sold in the Capitol gift shop. The largest Texas state flag produced at Hilltop, a 27-by-40-foot behemoth, flies over the state cemetery in Austin. In addition to offender and employee clothing items, the Hilltop factory also makes all the red burn ban flags posted by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department during periods of extreme fire danger. In all, the factory produces approximately $950,000 in annual revenue by selling its products to TDCJ and other government entities. Texas state flag sales account for more than $280,000 of the factory's total.
"Our biggest customer for Texas flags is the state Capitol," Hudson said. "And whenever the Legislature is in session, we sell more state flags because there are more people in Austin buying them."
|The Star-Spangled Banner is stitched at the Texas Correctional Industries' garment factory in Gatesville. The Texas state flag is also produced at the factory.
Hudson said the agency's industrial division has long been looking to offer Old Glory as a flagship product.
"One of the main reasons we got into the making of the American flag was that our customers kept asking for it," Hudson said. "And it was the right thing to do because so many American flags nowadays are made overseas. We wanted to give our customers the opportunity to buy a quality American flag that was made here in the United States."
The date the first U.S. flag came off the production line at Hilltop isn't one which will "live in infamy," but it just so happened to be December 7, 2009, the 68th anniversary of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Plant manager Kim Hunt said the timing was pure historical happenstance.
"It wasn't planned to coincide with the Pearl Harbor anniversary," Hunt said. "It just happened to be that day."
Hunt said the U.S. flag will be offered in four sizes and sell for between $25 and $78. Initially, they're all to be made of nylon, but will later be available in cotton, polyester and cotton-fringed fabrics. Customers can buy either the U.S. or Texas state flag separately, or bundle the two together in a package. As a bonus, a copy of the Pledge of Allegiance will be included with every U.S. flag sold, Hunt said.
Because embroidering and stitching the U.S. flag is complex, TCI started out by buying nearly-finished flags and then finishing them out at the Hilltop factory. Twenty-three female offenders assigned to the flag line hem the flag edges, sew on a wide twill band at its base and finally inspect the banner for quality. Hunt said the factory can produce between 200 and 300 Texas and U.S. flags a day and planned to build up an inventory of approximately 2,000 U.S. flags before putting them up for sale on state contract. By mid-February, more than 450 had been produced.
Hunt said the entire Texas state flag is put together at Hilltop.
"Our plan in the long term is to build the U.S. flag from scratch," she said.
Hudson said he and his factory workers take great pride in building American flags on American soil.
"A lot of patriotism goes into the making of these flags, a lot of pride," he said. "The offenders take pride in the Texas flag they make and they will take even more pride in the U.S. flag. We all will."