South Central Correctional Facility in Missouri has inmates coming together through a surprising hobby for a great cause.
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Inspired by the principle of restorative justice, which focuses on rehabilitating inmates rather than just punishing them, Joe Satterfield started the quilting group so prisoners could have an avenue to feel that they are contributing to the community.
The men who join the group usually have two projects to choose between: one that auctions off their quilts at local charities and fundraisers and another that gifts personalized quilts to local foster children for their birthdays.
Sixty-six-year-old inmate Fred Brown remembers watching his mom sew drapes when he was just a kid. He never had any interest to try it out for himself, and he certainly had no idea just how much skill it would take.
“I learned quickly that women who have sewn all their lives are mathematical geniuses,” Fred said. “It takes a lot of math to calculate your seam allowances. And the angles and circles. There’s a lot that goes into it.”
Despite the challenge, Fred has found quilting to be a great use of his time, especially since he knows that the end product will go to a kid in need.
“When I learned that I could help bring a smile to a child’s face, I was all in,” he said. “Right now, I’m working on a puppy quilt that will go to a 13-year-old boy. I don’t know anything about him, but I have a feeling he’s going to love this quilt.”
Fred’s latest quilt will be just one of 2,000 that have been made in the Missouri prison over the last 10 years, all of which were made possible by fabric that people have donated.
“You can see a change in their attitude,” Joe said. “A light flips on like, ‘Oh, this is a new avenue. I can actually be a part of something.'”
Part of the reason this quilting program resonates so deeply with these inmates is because they can relate to foster care children. Some have been in the foster care system themselves, while others find a connection in their shared feeling of haven been forgotten by society.
“They can relate because they’ve been there. It gives them comfort and satisfaction to know that a quilt they’ve made is going to a child who may not get another birthday present,” Joe said.
Being able to create something with their own hands and knowing that something is going to a child for their birthday is a great way for the inmates to still have some sort of connection to the world outside of their prison.
“You see the names of these kids in foster care; you see a 1-year-old or 2-year-old, and it kind of breaks your heart,” inmate and quilt volunteer Rod Harney said. “But that lets us know we’re human still. You can’t express enough how it feels to do it.”
When they aren’t doing their chores, many inmates in the group spend the majority of their time quilting, some of them up to seven hours a day. It’s a nice way to help pass time more quickly, but it’s also a way for the inmates to make positive contributions and connections to society, even while they’re serving their sentence.
“Making birthday quilts for these kids is the most meaningful thing I’ve done since I’ve been in prison,” Fred said. “It makes me feel better about why I’m here.”
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