|By Jordan Howse, The High Point
Enterprise, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 01, 2011--RALEIGH -- Inmates at the N.C. Correctional Institute for Women don't let their sentences keep them from getting visitors to North Carolina.
Since 1989, inmates at the prison have answered the 1-800-VisitNC calls that inform potential N.C. tourists and residents what there is to do in the Tarheel State.
Nancy Bowman, High Point Convention and Visitors Bureau marketing and communications manager, and Iva Panayotova, guest services manager for Courtyard by Marriott, traveled to Raleigh May 25 to update the 15 inmates on what's new in High Point.
The call center operates in two modular units on the campus and is considered one of the most prestigious jobs at the prison. The inmates ship travel guides to callers who want more information about places to visit. They also take a two-week class with Phyllis Watts, a professor from Wake Technical Community College, and are trained and become nationally certified travel counselors.
It is the highest-paying job at the prison with inmates earning $1 per day in their first 18 months of work, then a raise to $2 each day. After three years, inmates earn $3 each day.
"Other prisons have tried to copy this system but have failed," Bowman said. "This is the only successful one."
The call center is an initiative that involves four state agencies: the Department of Commerce, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Labor.
When visitors or residents dial 5-1-1 for travel information, the DOT directs them to the call center and inmates can give travelers more information.
"After our presentations to the ladies, our numbers usually increase," Bowman said. "When we ask visitors how they heard about High Point, a lot of them say 'through VisitNC.'â€‰"
Wit Tuttell, director of travel marketing for the Department of Commerce, said last year, the call center received 100,000 calls and sent out 200,000 travel guides.
Teresa Culpepper, an inmate who has worked at the call center for 10 years, said she just wants to help callers find what they are looking for.
"Just because we are in here doesn't mean we don't want you to come to North Carolina," she said.
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