Two retired women, Lyn Zwerling and Sheila Rovelstad, have initiated and implemented a program called Knitting Behind Bars at a prison in Maryland. They approached every prison in the area with their idea for a knitting class, and all the prisons refused except the last one, where the prison authorities skeptically agreed to let them try it. And the program has been a success. As the Baltimore Sun
reported, "Men literally beg to get in. There's a waiting list.... They want it so much, in fact, that they're willing to be good in order to do it. [Prison warden Margaret] Chippendale has noticed lower rates of violence among the men who knit. "It's a privilege to be in that program," Chippendale says. "It's something that matters and they don't want to do anything to be removed from it."
One prisoner, who was serving time for stabbing someone and who was busily knitting a hat, told the reporter, "My mind is on something soft and gentle," he said. "My mind is nowhere near inside these walls."
Zwerling talks about why she thinks knitting classes are beneficial in an NPR interview described here
. She believes that knitting teaches patience and discipline, anger management, and goal orientation, all important life skills that many criminals may be lacking. And some lessons in basic social skills can be shoehorned in at the same time. Zwerling and Rovelstad insist on good behaviour from the men in their knitting classes: no swearing or rough housing is allowed in the classroom, and given names are to be used rather than prison nicknames.
The men in these knitting classes have made little dolls that first responders in Maryland now carry to give to children at scenes of accidents, fires and other tragedies. They've made hats and scarves for their own children, for their mothers or grandmothers, for themselves. Some of them have said they are continuing to knit upon their release from prison, or intend to.
Knitting Behind Bars has its own blog
where you can read about the program, which Zwerling and Rovelstad hope to see implemented in other prisons. And, since Zwerling and Rovelstad supply all the yarn, needles, and other tools and supplies needed for their classes, you can make a monetary donation to their program if you wish.