For the month of September, we're bringing you stories of workers across Indiana, about what they do and how they find meaning in their jobs. This week, Indiana Public Broadcasting’s Justin Hicks profiles Dexter Loftin, a friction welder at Manufacturing Technology Inc. in South Bend. Dexter started working there through a prison re-entry program.
"We do pistons, we do things for the airline industry. We do things for NASA and the SpaceX program," Dexter Loftin said while giving a tour of the factory where he works. "Man, I’m doing some great things here. And I’m moving some big parts and I'm working on some very big machines. I’m working on the world’s largest friction welder. It’s beautiful. It’s good. It’s a good feeling.
"It’s a whole bunch of machines making a whole bunch of loud noise. If you can tolerate hearing a loud noise, it makes a beautiful sound. It’s a good noise because it's putting the pieces to a puzzle [together] and in the end, it makes a beautiful thing.
"On my shift we weld about 500 to 550 of these," Loftin said, showing a eyelet welded to a short metal tube that will eventually end up going in a shock on a truck. "Seeing the finished product and what it becomes, and what it's going to and the trucks it's going on – it’s pretty cool, it's a pretty neat thing to do."
"It's an amazing feeling to know that you took part in something that's going up in the air, into the atmosphere that you helped – basically put in circulation. No one will probably know, that hey, that guy over there, Dexter Loftin did this. But Dexter Loftin knows he did that. They might not give me a plaque or say, hey, that's the guy. But hey, I love doing my job, I love it.
"They gave me a shot and opportunity and I'm running with it.
"The things I learned at the re-entry center is just, how to be patient. Be humble, just stay focused, keep that motivation and drive that you have within you burning and just stay on the path. And then just–the doors will open for you.
"It was a tool," Loftin said, comparing the re-entry center to some wrenches on a table. "Like these right here, it was a tool. It helped me get back to where I needed to be at. It was a great experience for me at the re-entry center.
"When I finally did a job setup myself and accomplished it, that was definitely a proud moment for me. I came in early in the morning, and – he’s my general manager, right now – he hands me the blueprint and he says we need to set this machine up. But I had never done it by myself. I was a little nervous and I wanted to prove myself. But I was more nervous. And I set it up. And that was my first moment where I was like, I can do this.
"I have a son and a daughter. My son is 22 and my daughter is 21. They’re hard working, they’re still young kids at heart. Still growing up, but hey, they’ve got that work ethic in them, so I’m proud of them. That’s my world, my family.
"The American dream to me is being successful, owning a home. You know, your family is well taken care of, you’re financially stable. I measure success by the happiness of my family. I don’t need all the millions in the world, I don’t need to be a billionaire, I don’t need to be none of that. The simple things in life is really the American dream to me. So yeah, I have an excellent life."