"I was thrown out of a prison!" – The Sales Call From Hell

January 29, 2014

5 Min Read
"I was thrown out of a prison!" – The Sales Call From Hell

When I first began working in this industry I had started a Manufacturer’s rep group and one of my contracts was to sell Willett America inkjet systems in the Southwest. I was very proud of the fact that their system was the best available at that time and I had purchased what they called a "PEN Coder Table for demonstrating to clients the systems ability to actually place the client's name on Pens, Golf Balls etc.”

I had showed this to my son who was 8 at that time and had coded his name on several items that he wanted to take to school to show to his friends.

My next demo was for a well known canning company that the State owned and operated within a prison. The inmates actually grew their own food and would can their own vegetables for the entire prison system back then.

When I got there I was assigned a guard and a leadman for the plant so that nothing would happen to me. I was already concerned about my safety when I walked through the prison doors and was searched thoroughly. All the workers within the plant were tough convicts and I watched as several were chained up and lead outside the plant. I was told that those two in particular were not to be trusted around outside people.

Great, what if they had forgotten someone such as a crazed killer that hated salesmen? I was constantly looking over my shoulder feeling totally stupid for being there.

So, there I am among hundreds of killers, drug pushers, addicts etc. trying to demonstrate an inkjet system. I wanted to get the demo finished and get myself out of there as fast as I could. This was going to be a very short and quick demonstration.

Inside the canning plant it was very hot and steam was everywhere from their ovens and from the can’s water baths. So within minutes my clothes were totally soaked and there were areas of the plant that were clouded in steam. It was easy to imagine an armed felon jumping out at any minute with a homemade knife just for me.

I was told to place the system in a position that would replace an old contact coder. I had to get their maintenance crew to chisel off the old contact coders bolts since they were well rusted on. And getting a chisel or any sharp tool inside that plant was a real chore and took several hours to accomplish.

All that time I was becoming more aware of the convicts and why I should not have been there. But, once they finished I placed the coder into position and got it started up as fast as I could so I could do the demo and get the heck out of there.

The coder was running fine for about 5 minutes when I noticed that ink was starting to fill up in the bottom of its stainless container. I had forgotten to remove the plug from the ink return line and attach it back to the receiving tank! Taking the line off and plugging the tank was the SOP for transporting those machines back then. So, I had an MEK ink mess filling up the bottom of the system while it was coding their cans.

I had barely managed to get the line connected and the ink going back into the tank when out of nowhere a whistle began blowing. I thought it must mean that its lunch time or break time. But, my guard and the inmate I was assigned to grabbed me and ran me out of the plant holding each of my arms, while yelling at everyone to stand back. I didn't know what to think.

It seems that the chisel and hammer that was used to get the old coder removed had gone missing. Several more hours passed and out walks another inmate in chains with two guards beside him and the guards had the chisel and hammer in their hands. I was amazed at how the little guy could have gotten those tools.

This all took several more hours before I was allowed back into the plant. All that time the inkjet had been on and running coding hundreds of cans. Cans that were now starting to really pile up. When I got back to the line I saw that someone had changed the code on the KID and now my son's full name was being coded on their cans and the inmates that were placing the boxes on pallets began to laugh.

Someone had managed to switch the code to the Pen Demo while I was outside waiting for the “all clear” signal! They thought it was so funny that no one had said a word.

When the assistant warden came into the plant he said a few terse words and told me that he did not appreciate my sense of humor. I tried to explain what had taken place but he was just not interested and asked me to pack up my crud and get the heck out of his prison and that he would see to it that I never would be back.

I was soaking wet, had blown a demonstration in a real nasty place, and was being thrown out to boot. I changed the code once more adding his name and a nasty comment and let the machine code a few dozen cans before I left.

I watched as the convicts got those cans and again began laughing and several of them placed the cans in their reject area but many were packed into their cases to be sent out. I hoped that the cans with the Assistant Warden's name and the comment managed to get into other prisons but I will never know.

I did receive a letter from the state telling me that my company's name had been removed from their vendor’s list and if I wanted to object to their decision I was given the opportunity for a phone hearing.

I passed on the opportunity.

David Johnson is the President and Sales Manager for Texas Packaging Systems and Supplies.
(817) 516-7300 Office Phone
(817) 561-0477 Fax
[email protected] 


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