Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The things you learn about Minnesota prisons while on the road October 25, 2017


ONCE UPON A TIME, beginning in the late 1870s, inmates at the Minnesota Correctional Facility, Stillwater, built agricultural equipment. Through the years they crafted threshing machines, hay rakes, barge wagons, manure spreaders and more.



This proved news to me. But Randy noted that as we followed a tractor pulling a gravity box along LeSueur County Road 13 on Sunday afternoon. He pegged the wagon as 1970s vintage prisoner made.



Online research confirmed Randy’s claim in articles published in Farm Collector magazine. According to those stories, prisoners built ag equipment until 2006.



Today inmates within Minnesota’s correctional system—including right here in my community of Faribault—produce products through the prison system’s MINNCOR Industries. Those range from residential and office furniture to clothing to printed materials to cabinetry and more.


Prisoner made furniture at Buckham Memorial Library. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2017.


When I visit my local library, I can sit on inmate built easy chairs or loveseats, some upholstered in knock-knock joke fabric with this favorite prisoner joke:

How do prisoners make phone calls?

With cell phones.



Much has changed since the days of building manure spreaders…and gravity boxes



as time passes in the rearview mirror of prison life.


© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


16 Responses to “The things you learn about Minnesota prisons while on the road”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    I remember the chairs from an earlier post but the farm equipment is a new one. That must have been quite an endeavor and I can not imagine all of the equipment needed to produce those. I would imagine that chairs and furniture would be easier. 🙂

  2. There was a blue jean factory in Oregon for a while that made, I think they were called, “Prison Blues”, really made by inmates in prison.

  3. Littlesundog Says:

    I remember your post on the furniture made in prison, but this is quite interesting about ag equipment. I suppose the farm implement and equipment industry became very saturated or maybe cost of steel has gotten too high to keep production up.

  4. Valerie Says:

    This is interesting Audrey. I guess I knew prisoner’s made products but didn’t really know what kind.

  5. Connie McIntosh Says:

    Hello, as long time followers of your blog we arrived this day 10-25-17 in Faribault from Omaha Ne via New Ulm. What sites should be seen while we’re here?

    • Welcome, Connie and Mike from Omaha! We’re happy to have you here in southeastern Minnesota, specifically Faribault.

      Please check your email for a lengthy list of recommended places to visit/sites to see in Faribault. Enjoy!

  6. –I really love the idea of prisoners utilizing their skills.
    It’s better than sitting in nothingness.
    Thank you, as always, for educating me. xx

  7. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Oh wow I had no idea. Sure gives them something to do and I’d suspect a sense of accomplishment

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