View Full Version : Mississippi prisoners to manufacture bullet-gobbling concrete

03-27-2004, 07:18 PM
Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. - Sacon sounds like science fiction, but Vicksburg's U.S Army Engineer Research and Development Center invented it.

To make the "shock absorbing concrete," engineers inject a chemical foam into concrete laced with concrete fibers. The foam thickens into a gummy substance that captures shrapnel and bullets that hit the concrete.

Sacon could save the lives of countless soldiers and law enforcement officers by preventing hand grenade fragments and ricochets. Now, the first Sacon ever sold is being made by men who flouted laws. Inmates at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman recently became the world's only licensed Sacon makers.

The Engineer Research and Development Center signed a licensing agreement with the nonprofit Mississippi Prison Industries Corporation in February. Prison industries is a job training program created by the state in 1990 to teach inmates how to make products like bedding, horse stalls, office furniture and Christmas holly wreaths. The program supports itself on the product sales and prisoners earn 35 cents to $5.15 hourly.

The Sacon contract is a potential gold mine for prison industries.

"We survived the recession fairly well with $6 million in sales last year," said the program's CEO, John Miller "We haven't even set a price for the product yet because there is nothing else like it on the market."

Miller said the prison industries program passionately pursued the licensing contract.

"We convinced ERDC that we could meet all the quality controls," he said.

Prison industries produced an ancillary product: a Sacon mannequin to be used for target practice.

Mississippi Prison Industries Corp. is in negotiations with California-based Super Trap, which makes tactical and firing ranges for training police and military officers. The Drug Enforcement Agency built an assault house from Sacon blocks to train Los Angeles agents.

And firing range owners are intrigued by Sacon's environmental friendliness. The Vicksburg engineering group says the calcium phosphate and aluminum hydroxide added to Sacon actually coat bullets to prevent their lead from leaching into soil below.

The Engineer Research and Development Center will get less than 5 percent royalties from prison industries' Sacon sales.

"We wanted to give the license to a nonprofit agency known for community outreach because we figured the American taxpayers paid for our research so it should reap the benefits," said engineer Joe Tom, one of Sacon's inventors.

Tom believes inmates can learn to make Sacon with about a week of training.

"It's like baking a cake. You mix the ingredients by following the recipe," he said. "My son made a pretty good replica of Sacon for his science project using concrete and shaving cream."

The engineering center's technicians tested Sacon by shooting it with "submachine guns, 12-gauge shotgun slugs and it even grabbed Teflon-coated cop-killer and dumdum bullets," Tom said.

Because Sacon is two-thirds lighter than normal concrete, it offers no protection from bombs.

"With bombs, the danger is from the pressure of the blast, not ricochets," Tom said.

The impulse behind Sacon's invention came when military officers complained about the danger of training soldiers with live ammunition. Normally, a bullet bounces about six times after it hits a wall, a detail seldom mentioned in TV cop shows.

"Laser and paintball guns were not an effective method of training. They needed real weapons," Tom said.

Prison industries has trained eight inmates initially to make Sacon and fill orders for private sector companies.

"We hope to create demand that will create more free-world jobs as we subcontract to outside companies," Miller said.

He credits a prison industries operation in Raleigh with saving 400 "free world jobs."

"A local company wanted to move to Mexico for cheap labor," Miller said. "MPIC convinced the firm that it could save enough money to save Mississippi jobs with inmate labor."