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Inmate Starts Greeting-Card Business For Prisoners

November 23, 1992

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) _ Jake Bordeaux’s unique greeting cards are for that special someone ... behind bars.

Bordeaux, an inmate at South Dakota State Penitentiary, created Hoosegow Press with insights into the prison psyche.

″I also think if prisoners are shown my cards and allowed to buy them, they will, because they get to the heart of our needs, our loneliness, our isolation,″ Bordeaux said recently.

His cards feature a character named Jake the Snake, a cigarette-smoking reptile shackled with ball and chain. One card Bordeaux drew shows Jake staring out his cell window, with the caption, ″Sorry about the silence, but you understand, don’t you?″

″These cards become a vehicle of communication for inmates who may not be very good at that kind of thing,″ Bordeaux said. ″He can see these and say, ‘Yes, that’s exactly how I feel.’ And though he might not be articulate or artistic, he can still get his feelings out to the people he wants to.″

Bordeaux, 36, has spent about 9 1/2 of the last 18 years in prison. He says his convictions on charges including burglary and drunken driving stemmed from alcoholism. He was jailed again in September after violating his parole by getting drunk and fighting.

″I have never blamed society or the environment or anyone else for my problems,″ Bordeaux said. ″I always knew the right way versus the wrong way. And for some reason I always chose the wrong way out of self-destruction or whatever. Once you choose the wrong way, it’s hard to stop.″

With a poet’s sense of irony, Bordeaux notes that Jake the Snake seemingly could escape from the shackle on his tail with ease.

″But he never slips out of it,″ Bordeaux explains. ″We wear that ball and chain, even when we get out.″

Still in its infancy, Hoosegow Press got a $3,000 boost from the Lakota Development Council, a mission of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, a Roman Catholic organization based in Chamberlain.

The money helped Bordeaux get a computer and other office supplies. It also is paying for mailings sent nationwide. He plans to sell cards, T-shirts and other printed items.

″I have a good feeling about Jake’s business,″ said Joyzelle Godfrey, manager of the council. ″The response he has gotten from prisons all over the country is phenomenal.″

Once his sentence ends Dec. 11, however, Bordeaux faces some serious obstacles, said Nancy Straw, manager of the Small Business Development Center of the University of South Dakota, which has helped Bordeaux with research and financing.

″The fact that he is Native American, the fact he is an ex-con, the fact that he is disabled and the fact that he is an alcoholic all work against him,″ Straw said.

Bordeaux, who uses a leg brace because of a childhood accident, agrees it won’t be easy.

″My past certainly makes me a risk to any potential investor,″ he said. ″The point is, people need to see that I picked myself up, dusted myself off and I am continuing on. This is my future.″

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