THOMSON – Tamra and Bradley Yates traveled more than 8 hours from Lexington, Kentucky, with their 14-month-old daughter to be in Thomson on Monday.
They were there to be ready for Tuesday, the first day of the 3-day hiring fair for jobs at the federal prison.
Tamra, a nurse at a federal prison in Lexington, waited outside with their daughter, Miela, while her husband went in to talk with Federal Bureau of Prison employees about the open positions.
Bradley will likely be applying for a job as a correctional officer, he said. It's his most recent attempt to work in a federal prison – he's applied for numerous positions at the Lexington prison, but the competition is high, and so far he's been unsuccessful.
"Everybody wants to work there," he said. "Transfers usually get the first spot, and then veterans usually take the rest. So this is the best chance."
Tamra said she would request a transfer from Lexington if her husband gets a job in Thomson. They have no family in the area, and, actually, this trip marked their first time in Illinois.
"It is amazing how flat it is here," Tamra said, laughing.
Sarah McRae left the building just a little bit before Bradley Yates did. She came from Moline and wanted to apply for a counseling job. She walked out of the prison a little deflated – her age, 37, makes her unable to apply.
The Bureau of Prisons sets age limits for positions, because prison employees could be in emergency situations, said Beth Pottios, the BOP's regional public information officer.
When the job fair began at 9 a.m., there was a line of people waiting to get in.
"We're excited about the interest and look forward to having more folks come on," Pottios said. "Folks got here early and were prepared."
She said she knew of people who had traveled from as far as Minnesota for the fair.
By 1 p.m., almost 300 people had walked through the prison doors.
This is the first phase of a hiring process that will eventually bring 1,100 jobs to the Thomson area.
Until then, 200 minimum-security inmates will help out with providing the basic jobs at the prison, including landscaping and food service.
More than a dozen years ago, the state built the 1,600-cell maximum-security prison in this small Carroll County village along the Mississippi River, but couldn’t afford to run it.
The federal government bought it in 2012.
In January, Congress approved $90 million for prison buildings and facilities, money that could pay for opening new lockups. The BOP was required to report back to Congress in 30 days with a spending plan, which it did.
The bureau said it wanted to spend $54 million for the first phase of activating Thomson, with $10 million going toward renovations.
It now awaits congressional approval of the plan.
Full activation is expected to take 3 years at a cost of $25 million for upgrades and renovations and about $170 million for equipment and staffing.
The Bureau of Prisons job fair will continue from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. today, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday at AUSP Thomson, 1100 One Mile Road in Thomson.
The fair is purely informational, and no one will be hired there.
Go to www.bop.gov and click on jobs, or call 202-307-3198 and press 4 for more information on the BOP's requirements for employment, including the parameters of the physical test, and for other information.