Some of the men had never even touched a sewing machine before joining the program. Now they can't get enough of it.
There's a room inside a prison in Licking, Missouri, where sewing machines run for hours and squares with special designs are embroidered one after the other to make beautiful quilts. And the hands that make these quilts belong to the very prisoners that are serving out sentences for various crimes at the South Central Correctional Center.
Every single day, the prisoners that are part of the quilting program make these quilts from scratch. These quilts are then actioned by local charities at fundraisers or they are especially given to children living in foster care system in Texas County.
"When I learned that I could help bring a smile to a child’s face, I was all in," said Fred Brown, who has so far served 25 years of his 15-years-to-life prison sentence.
As he serves time for armed kidnapping and rape, Fred now spends his days cutting out fabric squares of princesses and Care Bears for personalized quilts that eventually reach a child's hands.
"Right now, I’m working on a puppy quilt that will go to a 13-year-old boy," Fred told The Washington Post back in August, 2021. "I don’t know anything about him, but I have a feeling he’s going to love this quilt."
For the past 10 years, inmates have joined the prison quilting circle and have made about 2,000 quilts out of fabric donated to the prison. Some prisoners, like Jim Williams, never touched a sewing machine even once before they joined the program. But now, Jim finds himself so into the program that he lies awake in the middle of the night thinking about his quilt designs.
"I’ll wake up at 2:30 in the morning and think, 'That color really isn’t going to work,'" Jim said, according to stlpublicradio.org.
Another inmate, Richard Sanders, was the kind of person who would always steer clear of groups like this. But when he was once called to the sewing room to fix a broken machine, he left the room only after enrolling his own name in the program.
"It’s just a real peaceful environment," said Richard, who has spent over 30 years behind bars. "These places, the more you stay busy, the better you are."
What makes these inmates continue making quilts is the "escape from the prison world" it gives them, said Joe Satterfield, case manager at South Central.
As Joe runs the program, he sees a noticeable change in the inmates, some of whom have made hundreds of quilts over the past few years. "You can see a change in their attitude," he said. "A light flips on like, 'Oh, this is a new avenue. I can actually be a part of something.'"
Each quilt that is sewn within the walls of the prison is personzlied before it goes to a child in foster care. The inmates will embroider the child's first name in the corner of the quilt and create designs to make them feel like someone somewhere is rooting for them.
"You see the names of these kids in foster care; you see a 1-year-old or 2-year-old, and it kind of breaks your heart," said volunteer, Rod Harney. "But that lets us know we’re human still. You can’t express enough how it feels to do it."
Inmate, Jim, revealed that it really touches them to think that a quilt they made with their own hands can make a difference in a child's life. "For a foster child, they don't get a lot; they're in a home that may or may not really make them feel like part of the family," Jim said. "So when I see this quilt laid out here on the table, I get emotional. I really do."
Cover image source: HIS Radio/YouTube