All across the nation there are men, women and teens wearing prison blues who have picked up a hook and some donated yarn and learned to work stitch magic. From youngsters in juvenile centers for the first time to hardened criminals serving life without parole, these folks crochet to pass the time. And in doing so, they are not only giving back to the communities that they have taken from in the past but are also healing their own hearts and minds one chain at a time.
Prison Crochet Groups
You would be surprised to find out just how many prisons in this nation have crochet groups. (Learn about five prison crochet groups here.) The story behind the origin of each is as unique as the stories that brought the inmates behind bars in the first place. Some programs were instituted by prison officials as an intentional form of rehabilitation, which is common among programs in juvenile centers. Others were started by the inmates themselves, usually at the suggestion of one person who had learned to crochet before being arrested.
Crochet is a craft that is allowed in prisons where other crafts might not be because of safety concerns. Knitting needles are more dangerous than crochet hooks. Scissors are even more dangerous than knitting needles. So prisons may not want to take the risk of offering sewing, quilting, collage or knitting programs but they are willing to accept the lower risk of offering crochet classes. Typically the risk is worth the reward.
Giving Back to the Community
What nearly all of the prison crochet programs have in common is a theme of using the craft to give back to the community. For example, the Crocheting for the Community program at Oregon State Correctional Institution allows incarcerated men to donate crochet items to well-known charity programs like Warm-Up America. Many studies over the years have suggested that giving back to the community is a crucial aspect of rehabilitation for prisoners. It teaches them that they can do good instead of bad, shifts their attitudes from negative to positive and teaches important skills like goal-setting.
Many prison programs offer inmates the chance to give back to people similar to themselves. For example, the Crochet Club at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in Vermont allows female prisoners to donate handmade items to homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters. Many of these women come from the streets and there are arguably deep psychological benefits to showing someone else in that same situation that they deserve love and care in the form of a handmade donation.
Other prison programs may offer inmates the opportunity to give back to the type of people they harmed by their crimes or their incarceration. For example, the Charity Crafts program at Racine Correctional Institution is filled with men who are crocheting stuffed animals and toys for donation to children in need. Many of these men left behind families when they went to prison and they experience deep guilt as a result. The crochet program is a small way to start doing some good instead of wallowing in those negative feelings.
The Healing Nature of Crochet
Crochet, and crochet groups, can help anyone to heal. The meditative act of producing something from nothing can help battle the symptoms of depression and anxiety, which are mental health problems that plague inmates of all ages. And the support of a productive crochet group can provide the strength necessary for emotional growth.
Just a few of the benefits of crochet (for inmates as well as others) are:
o Improvements to self-esteem caused by being able to make something beautiful for others
o Relaxation of the mind thanks to the repetitive calmness of stitching
o Focus on a project stops the cycle of rumination that can lead to a downward spiral of emotions
o Positive sensory experiences like enjoying the touch of the yarn
o Serotonin release that physically fights off depression
Prison is a hotbed of mental health issues. Obviously these need to be treated professionally through proper medical care. However, that doesn’t always happen, and even for those who do receive the proper health care the situation itself may make it difficult to heal behind prison walls. Crochet is one tool that an inmate can use for self-healing.
Beyond the Prison Walls
Many of the inmates who are participating in crochet programs are eventually going to leave prison and enter the world at large. The skills that they learned from crochet will be an asset to them when they leave. Crochet will always be an affordable craft that they can turn to for relaxation and rest. Through crochet, many will have learned how to visualize, plan and complete a project, a skill necessary in many areas of life. And a few of them may even be able to use crochet as a marketable skill to assist them in generating income upon release.
A few really good prison crochet programs even set it as a specific goal of the program to make crochet a marketable skill. For example, the Colorado Corrections Industries has a program that works with inmates in prisons across the entire state of Colorado. In addition to learning the craft of crochet and using it to give back to others, these inmates are also able to learn pattern writing and to get certified in crochet. For some, it may be their first formal education in years. Whether that’s a stepping stone to additional education or just a means of making a little bit of money upon release, it’s a benefit to the individual and the larger society that they’re becoming a part of.
Regardless of what your stance is on the role of a prison in our society, the fact is that there are a lot of people there who will one day be released. They can either learn coping mechanisms and how to give to their communities or not. The crochet programs in prison play a key part in providing positive healing opportunities for those inmates.
This is a guest post by Kathryn Vercillo of the blog Crochet Concupiscence. Kathryn is writing a book about the health benefits of crochet, with an emphasis on its mental health benefits, which will be released in mid-2012. She believes in the transformative power of crochet and encourages crocheters to support each other in their efforts.