Prison crafters have been at work for some time in the Acute Mental Health unit at the Idaho Department of Correction — ever since a now-retired chaplain started a looming and crocheting program as a way to provide healthy, calming activities for inmates.
Inmates apply to be in the crafting program. They use a stash of donated yarn to make baby hats, afghans, blankets and other items that they donate to local hospitals.
Other inmates in another part of the prison complex work as trainers in the Inmate Dog Alliance Project of Idaho, a partnership between the Idaho Humane Society and the Idaho Department of Correction. Inmates in the program train unwanted shelter dogs to get them ready for adoption.
Now, a small, quiet partnership between the crafters and the dog trainers is helping both the dogs and the inmates. Canine graduates of the Inmate Dog Alliance will go out into the world in style because the men in the prison’s Acute Mental Health unit are making sweaters for them.
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The project is simple on the surface but involves more than leisure and handicrafts, say prison staffers. The project allows for collaboration between inmates and provides a sense of accomplishment. The latter is hard to find behind bars, said Larissa Pfeifer, psychosocial rehabilitation specialist.
They’re very careful about how they speak when they’re here. They’re not crass. They’re not rude. It’s like a sanctuary.
Bill Stone, instructor
“Some of the mental health offenders will say that they need a lot of patience to do this work,” said Pfeifer. “This is a population that doesn’t have a lot of patience. So to have something unravel, to have to do it again and follow a pattern is a good skill to learn. We don’t have many activities that teach that. But it is something that will help them move forward.”
Pfeifer came up with the idea of the partnership between IDAPI and the loom group.
Loom group member James Luker made the first dog sweater, a roll-necked number for a small black dog named Kermit. Luker worked from instructions printed off the web to make the sweater.
“Time flies. I get lost in the work,” said Luker.
He so enjoyed making the first sweater, that he quickly asked to make another. His new challenge will easily fill the three hours a week he spends in the art room: making a sweater for IDAPI dog Milo, a massive mix of husky and something even larger.
Bill Stone and Josh Olson, offenders who have full-time jobs in the prison’s library, volunteer their free time to teach looming and crocheting. The art room is “like a sanctuary,” said Stone, who learned to crochet when he was a boy. The program offers a chance for offenders to give something to the community outside the prison. It also allows them the rare chance to help one another, Stone said.
“The idea of collaboration, for a lot of the men here, that has been an unknown concept until now,” said Stone.
The loom group needs yarn
If you’d like to help inmates with their creative projects that benefit both humans and dogs, bring yarn donations to the Idaho Department of Correction central office, 1299 N. Orchard in Boise, attention William Carroll, chaplain, volunteer religious coordinator.