Yarn rolling in for crocheting prisoners

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The calls came.

Just how many, I don’t know.

And I didn’t keep the names, and now I regret that.

But they came.

And every one of them thrilled me because every call said that we care for each other even when we’re having a hard time. Even when the hard time may be justified.

As soon the Post published the story about inmates of Piedmont Correctional Institution learning to crochet lap blankets and all kinds of things for residents of the State Veterans Home for Christmas, my telephone started ringing constantly.

Well, maybe “constantly” is a bit of an exaggeration. I didn’t get those calls all morning or even all day for days.

But there were a bunch of them, and the callers were surprised and happy that the inmates had learned how to crochet and were using their new skills — and wanted to help them some way.

“I think I’ll take them some yarn,” one after the other said. “They could use yarn, couldn’t they?”

I told them I was sure they could — and was happy when the callers said they’d like to help.

The day Wayne Hinshaw and I went out to the Piedmont Correctional Institution, the crocheters had stacked up the most recent throws and lap blankets and scarves to let us see what they were doing.

But talking about learning to crochet didn’t slow their fingers. They could talk and crochet at the same time without any trouble — and make it clear they were happy with what they were doing because they enjoyed it and because they knew someone was going to get some good use out of it.

“There was some opposition to the program initially,” says Program Director Sheila Flowers, but it didn’t take them long to enjoy learning to do something that was going to be well-used by someone who needed a lap blanket or a scarf.

And inevitably, virtually every caller — at least every woman caller — said she was happy to read about prisoners doing something for others and added that she had some wool she wanted to give to them.

Not that everyone had wool, but that didn’t stop them.

“Maybe,” said Nicole Cuellar, “I’ll buy some yarn.”

Nor was that all she wanted to do.

“Maybe my friends and I will get some box lunches for them, too,” she said and then paused as another thought struck her.

“Maybe we could even buy some afghans from them and pay for them. I’d love to get some afghans.”

And Sheila Flowers couldn’t have been happier than she was with Nicole’s reaction.

“She wanted to come out and bring some yarn and also wanted to see the program. I told her we could possibly arrange that, and we’re humbled and delighted and appreciative of the response we’re getting.”

The story ran in Monday’s Post, and they’ve received other calls as well.

“At least four and possibly more,” she said. “And most of them were asking could they buy the blankets. We told them no, but one lady had yarn with books with patterns in them,” and that was exceedingly welcome.

Prison personnel were also pleased with the complimentary response from the program section in Raleigh.

“I’m excited about it,” Sheila said, “and the inmates are very excited, too, even though they’re in prison for reasons they created themselves. But they can still feel good about doing something for someone else.

“It’s kind of like the Biblical thing,” she added. “We’re increasing our being able to help others. For me as a human being, it’s a standpoint that even out of a bad situation, good things can happen.

“These guys are here by choice. They made decisions. They decided to break the rules.”

But now in prison — and often when they’ve got crochet needles in their hands creating something good of their own doing, she said, “they have time to think,”

“When you’re doing something like that, they have time to sit back and think and reflect over their lives, and I think they’re doing that.”

The program is working so well at the prison, she added, “because of the leadership. With Todd Pinion, the superintendent, and Willie Edley, assistant superintendent for programs, we were able to develop programs that are beneficial, not only to the inmate population but it reaches into the community.

“It was very pleasant to see so much interest in the program and for people to want to donate yarn for their projects.”

Funds for yarn usually came from donations and the inmate welfare fund, she said, “but now we won’t have to take as much from that.

“And,” she said, “telling the story to the public was very good for the unit. It made people aware of men who have done things that weren’t good who are now trying to turn their lives around.”

If you have yarn you’d like to donate, contact Program Director Sheila Flowers at the Piedmont Correctional Institution at 704-639-7540.

Contact Rose Post at 704-797-4251 or rpost@salisburypost.com.