Over the course of a year, the Central Maryland Correctional Facility's laundry plant in Sykesville processes some 2.2 million pounds of laundry.
Typically, that load consists of towels, sheets and some everyday items usually gathered from nonprofits and Maryland agencies and institutions, including state hospitals such as the neighboring Springfield Hospital Center, off Route 32 in South Carroll.
Beginning late November and running through last week, however, the laundry was a little more colorful.
Bras — literally thousands of them, of every color and size — were washed, dried and folded by the 100 inmates who work in the facility.
Collected by the Frederick radio station, WFRE, the bras have been a successful fundraiser for the past four years. The radio station urges listeners to drop off bras, and local businesses donate a $1 for every bra collected to benefit breast cancer research.
Once the collection is through, the bras are then cleaned and donated to women's and homeless shelters. That chore was completed earlier last week, and on Tuesday, a spokesman said the bras were ready for shipping.
This year, 17,000 bras were collected — and about 13,000 of those made their way to Sykesville.
"Everything we do is sanitized," said Capt. Blake Haulsee, plant manager, as he nodded toward a washing machine that's longer than a bus and has 14 washing compartments.
Even though the majority of the plant's laundry is done in that mammoth machine, the bras were done in a washing machine that resembled a typical home washing machine — only many times bigger with a sound like a jet engine.
"We remodeled in 2008 and got all brand new equipment," Haulsee said. "What we teach (the inmates), they can go out and get jobs in the private community."
While there are inmates being treated for drug abuse, the majority of the 469 inmates at the Central Maryland Correctional Facility work at the prison, whether at the laundry, a horse stable, on a road crew or handling daily chores, including cooking, cleaning and mowing the yard.
"Everyone has a detail," said Casey Campbell, facility administrator. "It is nice to be in a facility where the focus is preparing for release. These guys are getting out in two or three years."
Jerome Kellum, an inmate from Baltimore City, has been working with laundry since June. He's happy for the chance to learn a new skill.
Kellum said the laundry facility "prepares guys like me for the outside."
"It's easy to obtain the skills," he said. "It's a need. Everybody's clothes have to be washed."
It's a job that also tests the inmates in ways some didn't expect. The facility does not have air conditioning, and in the summer, the temperature inside can reach more than 100 degrees.
The extra duties needed to launder the bras bring are minimal, with the workers doing extra loads when time permits. All of the bras are dumped onto a large table when they come out of the drier to be sorted.
"The hooks get all hooked together and they come out as a blob," Haulsee said. He said the facility gets a few bras routinely, but "they're generic, nothing colorful like these. People donate some really neat stuff."
John Bradford, an inmate from Baltimore City, was happy to help with the bra program.
"It helps families … that don't have much," Bradford said. "I think it is a really good cause — support for breast cancer."
Inmate Alfonso Young was in his second year helping the bra fundraiser. His mother is a breast cancer survivor, and he said it was meaningful for him to do a small part to make the collection and distribution effort a success.
"It is a nasty disease," Young said of cancer. "Any organization that is funding (research), I am totally 100 percent behind it."