Staff Set the Meeting Agenda

because event center

The Because Event Center Was the Ideal Venue


In preparation for its annual meeting, ACI staff members were surveyed to determine what areas of ACI they would like to hear from at the meeting. Then, once the three areas were determined, they provided questions they would like representatives from those areas to answer. Staff members also submitted questions for Division Director Hellman and ACI CEO Radecki as well as for the three former-inmate/current employers.

This was a departure from past Annual Meetings where the agenda was set entirely by the executive staff. Employee engagement surveys for the last few years have shown that staff wants to learn more about every area of ACI and the people who work in those areas. This event provided the perfect opportunity to hear from new voices and learn about important ACI developments.
2018 Annual Meeting Building Alliances
The day-long meeting featured:

  • Morning presentations by Mario Diaz, Operations Bureau Administrator, and Bernie Bronson, AMS Facilitator
  • A powerful Keynote address from Kevin McCarthy
  • An Interview with Division Director Karen Hellman and CEO Brian Radeki
  • Lunch catered by Nibblers
  • Interviews with three ACI area managers selected by staff
    – David Barbee, Epicor
    – Randy Helm, WHIP
    – Mario Diaz, Labor Contracts
  • Interviews with 3 former inmates and their current managers
    – Superstition Components (formerly Q2Built)
    – ACI Purchasing
    – Papa John’s Produce
  • The Awards Ceremony

The day began with sign-in and continental breakfast, where team members from across the state could reconnect. Then IPS staff went across the street to the ACI Administrative Offices for a briefing with Labor Contract Operations Administrator Mario Diaz while the rest of the staff were given AMS training by Bernie Bronson.

ACI Annual Meeting 2018

Blind Spots
Once the entire staff was reunited, guest speaker Kevin McCarthy recounted his personal journey with early success, new beginnings, a very bad decision, and his long road back to a normal life with his wife and family.

Kevin McCarthy, Blind Spots

Kevin McCarthy explained how his own “blind spots” landed him in prison


The lessons he learned along this journey, formed the foundation for his best-selling book, Blind Spots, which each staff member received a signed copy of at the meeting, and the basis of his presentation entitled The Blind Spot Zone.

The old saying, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t,” was one of the red flags that Kevin chose to ignore as he began a new venture that promised huge financial rewards. The people he was working with seemed to be legitimate, but he soon discovered his trust in them was misplaced when FBI agents appeared at his door one fateful morning.

After his powerful presentation, Kevin served as the host for the seven interview sessions to follow.

Division Director Karen Hellman and ACI CEO Brian Radecki

Division Director Karen Hellman and ACI CEO Brian Radecki responded to questions ACI staff members had submitted before the meeting.


Management Answers Questions
Karen explained what the other areas of the Inmate Programs and Reentry Division are involved with, from education, mental health and addiction programming and community corrections to how the department is working closely with DES and [email protected] to create Second Chance Centers in appropriate complexes.

Brian went through the 2018 fiscal year financial results and detailed where ACI has been investing in its operations.

Both Karen and Brian also related former-inmate stories that had made a profound impact on them and served as a reminder of how important the work we do is in the lives of the inmates we work with.

Lunch and Mingling
A wonderful lunch buffet was served in the adjoining rooms, where everyone had plenty of time to eat, relax and catch up with staff members from across the state.

When the program continued, back in the meeting room, representatives from the three areas of ACI that staff said they wanted to hear from, answered questions about their area.

David Barbee answers questions about Epicor

David Barbee field questions about current Epicor issues


Epicor (ERP software)

ACI has been using Epicor or its predecessor for several years. David Barbee’s promotion earlier this year had him jumping in feet first to the tail end of a 3+ years long, multi-agency, and multi entity upgrade process. In other words, a lot of people outside of ACI are involved. The questions that were submitted fell into two types:

General and Pre-Upgrade Related Questions:

  • Epicor needs to be continually rebooted is this normal, a flaw in the program or a fixable issue?
  • Recently we found out that as an organization we are not using Epicor as it was intended and a lot of extra paperwork or processes were created that often have a negative effect on the business. Wouldn’t it make sense for us to start correcting some of the current issues with 9 since we will still be using it for the next several months?
  • What efforts/progress is being made to teach and fully enable staff to use Epicor correctly instead of using inmate developed variations of reports and information within EPICOR?
  • Epicor is so ambiguous, is there a way to make it more user friendly?

Post Upgrade Related Questions:

  • Will specialized printer templates still be available?
  • Will we have more control over the printer “Q”?
  • Will sales be able to run year-over-year and other reports that allow us to capture accurate business data?
  • Why do we need to upgrade, when will it be completed, and what types of training will be available?

Randy Helm talks about the success of ACI's Wild Horse Inmate Program

Randy Helm talks about the success of ACI’s Wild Horse Inmate Program


Wild Horse and Burro Inmate Program (WHIP)
Randy Helm has managed ACI’s Wild Horse and Burro Inmate Program since its inception in 2011. In addition to his unmatched skills as a horse “whisperer,” Randy is a pastor and former police officer. Local (and national) news outlets have done feature stories about this program over the years. Randy has hosted many training and adoption events with hundreds of horses and burros finding new homes with local farmers and ranchers as well as the US Border Patrol.

Some of the questions from staff that Randy answered included:

  • How are the horses captured?
  • How is the program helping the general public?
  • Is the adoption program going well?
  • What types of jobs are inmates qualified for when leaving the program?
  • Will the Wild Horse Program be extended to the female inmates and if so when?
  • How many horses have been trained and adopted out since the program began?
  • What has happened to the colt Justice born on site?
  • What inspiring stories stand out to you from years past about inmates working with horses?

Kevin McCarthy interviews Mario Diaz

Kevin McCarthy asked Mario Diaz questions ACI staff submitted


Labor Contract Partnerships
Since 1995, ACI has partnered with private businesses to provide inmate work crews in many diverse industries. Today we are partners with 31 different private businesses in many industries such as agriculture, call centers, recycling, metal fabrication, construction, truck repair, vehicle detailing, food preparation, fulfillment, warehouse maintenance. From being a small part of ACI’s business when this program began, labor contracts now represent more than 60% of ACI’s revenue and represents our most promising growth area going forward as the labor shortage worsens for many industry segments in Arizona.

Some of the staff-submitted questions that Mario addressed included:

  • What are the requirements for a company to be a labor contract customer and how do we go about getting new labor contracts?
  • We hear about the programs you run from working here but please explain exactly what the inmates do for each program?
  • How are labor contractors obtained? Do we pursue them or do they come to us?
  • I’m sure access to cheap labor is a big incentive for the employers, is that the most important driver of labor partnerships or are there other, more important, factors?
  • Do you see Labor Contracts growing to where another Regional Manager will be needed?
  • What are inmates’ experiences leading them to when they are released?

The remaining interviews were designed to include a former inmate who has found success after release and their current employer. At the last minute, one such team had to drop out because of pressing business issues, but another employer, Superstition Components, stepped up to complete the program.

Ed Hadley

Ed Hadley is President, Southwest Region of Walton Development and Management (WDM USA), the parent company of Q2 Built) since 2013.


Superstition Components

Formerly known as Q2 Built, renamed Superstition Components has been working with ACI since 2016 and currently employs a work crew of about 8 inmates (at Marana). Though the former inmate currently employed with Superstition Components was not able to attend, Ed read a statement from him during the interview.

Some of the questions Ed fielded included:

  • What kinds of jobs skills are the inmates learning?
  • Do other staff at Walton have any issues working with these inmates and ex-offenders?
  • Have you had any push back from customers around your willingness to hire ex-offenders?
  • In construction there used to be apprenticeships and journeyman programs where staff could be trained and brought along slowly to acquire the various skills necessary. Do you think that your inmate labor program could be seen as a modern-day version of them?
  • What has been your biggest challenge working with this population (during and after incarceration)?
  • What advice do you have for other employers who might be considering working with inmates or hiring ex-offenders?

Vicki Fitzpatrick, Purchasing Manager

Vicki Fitzpatrick, ACI Purchasing Manager talked about working with inmates


ACI Accounting, Purchasing
ACI Purchasing is responsible for buying all administrative office supplies, the raw materials for all operations (such as bulk paper, inks and other supplies for the print shop; bulk fabric for all the sewing operations; and metal, aluminum, and steel for the industrial yard…).

Purchasing Manager Vicki Fitzpatrick has been with ACI since 1997 is a Certified Professional Public Buyer (CPPB, 2005) who supervises a staff of three civilians and three inmate clerks.

Jennifer Reitan is a former inmate clerk, who was hired last year as an Assistant Buyer after her release. Jennifer is the first former inmate to be hired at ACI since 2011, when the policy was changed and such hires were no longer permitted. In 2016, the policy was again changed to reflect the department’s focus on improving reentry results for former inmates and ACI can now hire qualified former inmate clerks. When he announced this new hire at the Annual Meeting in October, CEO Brian Radecki said, “We’re constantly asking local businesses to hire the skilled, ex-offenders from our programs but the Department itself had policies against such hires,” he went on. “I’m excited that going forward, we can offer positions to qualified ex-offenders who have demonstrated the work ethic and learned our processes and procedures while working in our administrative offices. I know that Jennifer will be a great addition to our staff because she has already proven herself through the work she did with us during her incarceration!”

Jennifer Reitan, ACI Purchasing

Jennifer Reitan talked about her journey from inmate to staff in ACI’s Administrative offices


Some of the questions Vicki answered included:

  • You were with ACI back when the first experiment with hiring ex-offenders failed. Do you feel confident that this new effort will be more successful?
  • Over the years you’ve supervised and mentored many inmate clerks, have you found them to be responsive students?
  • Obviously Jennifer represents a huge success for the work program and the new initiative to hire ex-offenders, can you tell us about any other success stories you’ve witnessed?
  • What has been your biggest challenge working with this population?
  • What advice do you have for other employers who might be considering working with inmates or hiring ex-offenders?

Jennifer graciously answered questions like:

  • Given all the retention job offerings available in Perryville, why did you choose the position at ACI central?
  • Was the work what you expected?
  • What specifically did ACI do to better prepare you to work a job after you were released?
  • What was the biggest challenge you faced during your transition back to civilian life?
  • Now that you have a successfully transitioned what advice or suggestions can you give ACI to improve our programs to better prepare others who will follow in your footsteps?

Ericka Garduño from Papa John's Produce

Ericka Garduño discussed the challenges of working with inmate work crews


Papa John’s Produce
Papa John’s Produce has been an ACI labor contract partner since 2014. Seven days a week two separate inmate work crews come to their packaging facility. A crew of men works second shift and a women crew works third shift.

Ericka Garduño has recently taken over Human Resources duties. She had worked with one of ACI’s inmate work programs at a previous job a few years ago. Dean Gearhard has been an outstanding employee since he started working at Papa John’s as an inmate and has taken on many new roles and responsibilities since his release and is currently a junior manager.

Dean from Papa John's Produce

Dean Gearhard talks about the transition he’s made from being part of an inmate work crew to being a Junior Manager at Papa John’s Produce after his release


Ericka addressed questions like:

  • Papa John’s is a 24/7 operation, with shifts running continuously, how important is it for you to know that your inmate work crews will be there for you every day?
  • Does your parent company Taylor Farms have any issues with you employing inmates and ex-offenders?
  • Have you had any push back from customers about your inmate and ex-offender staff?
  • What has been your biggest challenge employee this population (during and after incarceration)?
  • What advice do you have for other employers who might be considering working with inmates or hiring ex-offenders?

Dean fielded questions like:

  • Besides your job with Papa John’s, did you work at any other ACI programs while you were incarcerated?
  • How has the training experience working for ACI affected you current job and life outside?
  • We really appreciate hearing from you today, why was it important for you to share your story with us?
  • Besides the jobs skills training you got, what did ACI and ADC do to prepare you for your release?
    [for example: résumé, typing/computer skills, business, part-time work while you went to Education classes GED or college, business-specific terms learned at ACI]
  • What do you think was the most important part of your ACI experience?
  • What was the biggest challenge you faced during your transition back to civilian life?

A true learning experience
All of the guests and staff who answered ACI team questions, reminded everyone of the important work ACI does and the real impact that work has on the lives of the inmates as well as our customers and partners.

The program concluded with an awards presentation ceremony.

ACI 2018 Annual Meeting
All photographs by Yannick Apers.

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