Prison Inmates Create Beautiful Quilts for Foster Children

Prison Inmates Create Beautiful Quilts for Foster Children

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

Prison can indeed be a harsh place to spend the majority of one’s life. It can harden those incarcerated further, beyond redemption, or it can transform self-centered inmates into caring selfless individuals, giving a little something back to society.

Over the past 10 years, inmates at Missouri’s South Central Correctional Facility have been making quilt wall coverings and blankets and donating them to children within the state’s foster care system. The program now boasts more than 2,000 personalized quilts having been painstakingly created and assembled by prison inmates.

The colorful cozy bed covers and wall hangings harkens back to a simpler time when grandma’s crafted beautiful fabrics together into one-of-a-kind mosaic patterns, which were then passed down from one generation to another. Today, the skilled art form has become an outlet for incarcerated men, not only to express their creativity, but to give something positive back to the communities from which they came.

When I learned that I could help bring a smile to a child’s face, I was all in,” Fred Brown said in an interview with The Washington Post. “Right now, I’m working on a puppy quilt that will go to a 13-year-old boy. I don’t know anything about him, but I have a feeling he’s going to love this quilt.”

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Another inmate, William White, an upholsterer by trade, joined the program soon after entering prison in 2015, using his skills spending 7-hours a day, 5-days a week quilting with other inmates.

The guys were making these beautiful quilts to give away to foster kids, and I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of,” he told WaPo. “I have six kids, and sewing had always been my passion. And now, here was a way for me to give back.”

The program incentivizes “restorative justice”, stressing rehabilitation instead of punishment, according to case manager Joe Satterfield.  It allows inmates to use their talents and keep them engaged in a useful and meaningful endeavor, while also contributing to the community.  More importantly, it impacts the lives of foster children in a profound way, showing that someone truly cares for them.

Satterfield acknowledges the program has been a game-changer, even for those who may spend the rest of their lives behind bars.

You can see a change in their attitude”, Satterfield told NPR’s St. Louis affiliate. “A light flips on like, Oh, this is a new avenue. I can actually be a part of something.”

The unique bond shared between prison inmate and foster child cannot be overlooked.  Both have been forced into a system that neither one wants to be in, yet they have no choice.   Regardless of circumstances, someone has taken the time to create a personalized gift for a child forgotten and abandoned, letting that child know someone cares, that they’re not “throwaways”.

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,” volunteer Rod Harney, who learned to sew in a seventh-grade Home Economics class told NPR. “But that lets us know we’re human still. You can’t express enough how it feels to do it.”

Every so often, Jim Williams wakes up in the middle of the night and lies awake inside his prison cell, thinking about quilt designs.

I’m kind of a perfectionist,” he said. “I’ll wake up at 2:30 in the morning and think, ‘That color really isn’t going to work’.”

Adding; “Even though I’m incarcerated, I can still do something beautiful.”