Contact: Lynn Zwerling
Knitting Behind Bars
12110 Blue Flag Way
Columbia, MD 21044
www.knittingbehindbars.com KNITTING BEHIND BARS
Knitting Behind Bars:
Inmates are knitting toys for children and learning vital life skills in the process
Columbia, April 6, 2010: Walk through the corridors of the Jessup Pre-Release Unit on a Thursday night and you may come across a scene that has shocked even the guards and inmates of this all-male minimum security facility: Gathered before you are about a dozen inmates. They’re holding pointed sticks and hooks, and they’re determined to get what they want—to learn how to knit and crochet.
The men are crafting “comfort dolls”—knitted stuffed toys that first responders will give to children in crisis situations. The project is part of Knitting Behind Bars, a program launched by local volunteers to help incarcerated individuals learn social skills while making a contribution to the community. Knitting Behind Bars was the idea of Columbia-resident Lynn Zwerling, the organizer of a large local knitting group. She launched the project in 2009 with the sponsorship of Ann Hosmer of Power Excel, a Baltimore non-profit that helps at-risk youth increase achievement and reduce anti-social behavior.
For 2 hours each week, Zwerling and volunteers Sheila Rovelstad and Lea Hiers meet at the 600-man facility and provide knitting lessons, support and encouragement to the men. The men use the gathering time to not only master the craft, but to also share stories about their families, the books they are reading, and their plans for the future. They are meticulous about their art—carefully choosing their yarn and not satisfied until their work is nearly perfect. They find the repetitive, yet creative, act of knitting to be a calming meditative process. “I tell them that knitting is the ‘new yoga’”, says Zwerling.
Photos on the Knitting Behind Bars blog, www.knittingbehindbars.com, tell the story best. One former participant, recently released to a halfway house, uses the blog to keep tabs on the progress of his knitting buddies.
Knitting Behind Bars is currently competing in the Pepsi Refresh project, an effort that helps fund ideas with a positive impact. Zwerling’s knitting group, Columbia Sip and Knit, has also contributed more than 300 books to the Jessup facility.
The men don’t want the program to end. “Who are you kidding?” said Ryan Barber, who made woven crosses and a star of David to show his appreciation to the volunteers. “This is the best part of our week.”
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