Local News

Female Prisoners Pushing Tourism In Tar Heel State

Posted October 8, 2002 12:14 p.m. EDT

— Some female convicts in North Carolina have a unusual job: they are working to attract tourism for the state.

North Carolina is known as a great place to visit and to take a vacation. Officials also said the state's 1-800-VISIT-NC phone number is popular. But some people do not know that the women who answer the toll-free number work behind bars.

Thirty-two inmates at the state Correctional Institution For Women man phones and mail information to prospective visitors. Carolyn James has 11 years remaining on a second-degree murder sentence. James and other inmates provide a service the state might not otherwise be able to afford.

"For most of the time, you don't feel like you're in prison, and if you have somebody [on the line], they don't know you're here either," she said.

Prison officials say the women want to give something back.

"They're just another voice on the phone. People don't know that they're talking to an inmate per se, so it provides them with an opportunity to give back, help somebody and feel a sense of normalcy in their lives," said Michael Ledford, of the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women.

The inmates answer more than 100,000 calls a year and mail out 300,000 packets of information, but there is more to it than that.

"It's nice to be referred to by your first name," James said. "It's nice to be called a person instead of an inmate," James said.

The program at the women's prison is the only successful call center in the country operated by inmates. It has been operating 13 years and helped emergency workers during Hurricane Floyd.

Officials say 43 million people visited the state last year.