Yes, I said behind bars -
not drinking bars -
I belong to a large local knitting group called Columbia Sip and Knit. Members number over 400. I know you must be wondering - how does jail and knitting link together!!
Our founder, Lynn, started with no members on that very first day several years ago and built Columbia Sip and Knit into the massive following she now coordinates. But no sooner did that endeavor take off, than she was looking towards another goal. She knew the value of knitting as a personal stress reliever. She saw the community feeling that this craft encouraged. And she was a dynamic personality with a big (and unusual) idea. To her mind, a "simple" challenge ... teaching male prisoners to knit and discover how calming and meditative the craft can be.
I can hear your thoughts now.
Guys on the wrong side of the law, guys who have tattooed messages on their bodies, guys who live in the challenging and sometimes ugly environment of prison - those guys - they would never pick up needles to knit. A girly hobby? Never. And initially she heard that from the wardens. Fortunately she marches to her own drum. She persisted. And she finally succeeded with one warden (a woman warden in a man's prison - let's hear it for women) and Knitting Behind Bars was born.
Her program is going strong after several years. She visits weekly for two hours with prisoners in a pre-release program. She quickly reminds new-bees that knitting began as a male activity - invented by males - and that male knitters are gaining in numbers once again. They knit comfort dolls for rescue workers to give to traumatized children and they have expanded their projects to knitted hats for kids in lower income city schools. These men are learning to give back to their community in a positive way. It is also hoped that this positive skill may help them cope when they step outside prison life and back into society.
And here is the real kicker of this story ... there is a waiting list of men who want to be a part of this group! It doesn't get any better than that.
Lynn, joined by her knitting buddy, Sheila are really making a difference.
At our Tuesday meeting this week, Lynn and Sheila were interviewed by a web based news group called Bus52. Bus52 is a year long project (52 weeks) for 5 individuals traveling around the US in a bus highlighting stories of people who have are making a difference. Knitting Behind Bars will be one of their stories.
Check out their web site starting in January 2012.
And so ... there were big lights.
There was a serious looking camera.
Sheila on the left, Lynn on the right.
There were mikes with wires attached to your body - just like a TV anchor!!
And there was Lynn sharing her story. This wasn't her first interview either. Here is one other link - there are others, but these two give you the flavor of the program.
I will highlight this wonderful story again - with the video, pictures and the interview when it launches in January 2012.
Child's hat made by a prisoner in the Knitting Behind Bars program.