From the PR Desk: My Day in Prison

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From the PR Desk:  My Day in Prison

Durham Bulls Director of Media & Promotion Matt DeMargel recently spent a day in prison, seeing for himself how the Bulls specialty license plates are made. Here’s what he had to say about his adventure behind bars.

Matt DeMargel
Durham Bulls Director of Media & Promotion Matt DeMargel

After 10 years of working in Minor League Baseball, I’ve learned one, indelible truth. No matter how long you stick around in this game, you will never have done everything. Never. You’ll hear longtime executives say they’ve done it all because they’ve built bleachers or painted a billboard at some point in their career before they planted themselves in a desk chair in front of a computer, but trust me, none of us have come close to doing it all.

Today I went to prison. Not because I committed any crime, but because I’m the promotions director and serve at the pleasure of this man. When most people see a project coming to an end, he sees its beginning. So when Durham Bulls Team Ambassador Bill Law came through the offices a few weeks ago with our brand new Durham Bulls license plates, I wasn’t given a pat on the back or a handshake for my contribution to the project. Instead, I was given a camera and sent to jail to take pictures of the license plates being made.

Drying Racks
The Durham Bulls license plates rest on drying racks after being printed.

Not just one correctional facility, by the way, but two! Making a specialty license plate is more complicated than you might think, assuming you’ve spent time in your life thinking about your license plate. So this morning I got up at 6:30am (middle of the night for a baseball man) cleaned up, said a prayer and headed off to Bunn, North Carolina for what would be a three-hour lesson on the making of the Durham Bulls license plate.

And you know what? Totally worth it. In retrospect I’m not sure why I wasn’t more excited about this in the first place. I’m basically a desk jockey, so having the opportunity to see people actually making things is a great break in the week. Plus, my favorite show to veg out to is Unwrapped on the Food Network. This was basically the same thing except I couldn’t eat the finished product.

Also, the people from the North Carolina Department of Corrections were terrific. It felt like they arranged the entire work day in these giant facilities around my visit which was wonderfully therapeutic for my expansive ego. The gentlemen that showed me around were both friendly and knowledgeable, feeding me a constant supply of interesting little tidbits that I’ll be regurgitating at cocktail parties for the next year!

The specialty plates are ready to have their numbers painted.

So without further ado, this is how your brand new Durham Bulls license plate was made. (Update: The links in this story are my photos. I took it for granted that people would figure that out, but I also took for granted that working in baseball wouldn’t land me in a correctional facility so what do I know?!?)

The process begins at The North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women (NCCIW), in Raleigh, the state’s major correctional facility for females. In the license tag plant is a room filled with giant rolls of aluminum alloy made in Ontario, Canada. A specific alloy is required because if it’s pliability. Otherwise, the aluminum would crack when they stamp it with the numbers. Cocktail Party Fact #1: They will go through one million pounds of the alloy in a year, with each one-ton roll resulting in 1,200 license plates.

Each roll is placed on a machine that runs it through a hot bath to soften it, applies the generic North Carolina face decal, rounds off the edges and cuts the mounting holes. Cocktail Party Fact #2: This machine takes the eight tiny pieces of scrap aluminum from each cut plate and blows them into a barrel. When the barrel is full, it is sold to a salvage yard. Current aluminum prices get them between $700 and $800 per barrel.

Once the plates are cut, the ones designated for specialty plates are boxed up and sent to the Franklin Correctional Center in Bunn, one of 61 prisons renovated or built when the State Highway Department assumed management of state prisons and put inmates to work building highways. The bulk of their work is making highway signs, but a corner of the building is used for screen printing artwork on the specialty plates.

Today, we’ll be working with inmates Rufus and Ron to make the Bulls license plate. The plate will take four screenings; first they do the Reflex Blue, then the Texas Tan, the black and finally the official NCDOT Blue for the “DB”. For each color, they put in a new screen, add the ink, run a proof on a transparency, then line up the license plate under the transparency for a perfect run. The plates are placed on a drying rack, then packaged and shipped back to the NCCIW for number stamping. Cocktail Party Fact #3: The inmates will work from 7am until 3:30pm and can screen 1,000 plates per day.

After the specialty plates are unpacked and sorted, they are taken to the number stamp where a female inmate is working the hand-held clamps like a chef at Kanki. Cocktail Party Fact #4: The number stampers will pound out 4,000 plates per day. Considering that some plates have eight characters on them, it takes impressive dexterity to work that quickly.

The final step is painting NCDOT Blue on the newly-stamped numbers. The plates are put through a rubber roller, then they make a 12-minute journey through a 300 degree oven to dry. Once they come out, they are sorted by number, placed in envelops and boxed for shipment to the department of motor vehicles. Soon thereafter, the DMV slides the sticker and registration into an envelope and out they go! Well, not all of them leave. Both the NCCIW and the Franklin Correctional Center have walls of fame.

So there you have it…all you ever wanted to know about how your new Durham Bulls license plate was made. And remember, you can still order your own license plate here. For now, I need to wrap this up and get to my next assignment. I don’t have all the info from my boss yet. Something about a bullet-proof vest…

Thanks to DBBC’s Matt DeMargel for this capcom story & these capcom photos.


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