By Don Chaddock, InsideCDCR editor
Video by Jeff Baur, CDCR TV Specialist

At-risk children who are struggling to stay warm received help last year from inmates at two California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation institutions.

In 2013, inmates at Folsom State Prison and Folsom Women’s Facility crocheted scarves, hats and stuffed animals for the children. This year, the Hooks and Needles program hopes to surpass last year’s totals. The challenge? They desperately need yarn.

See the 2013 video and story at http://www.insidecdcr.ca.gov/2013/12/inmates-knit-warm-gifts-for-children-with-surprise-ending-video/

A video, shot by CDCR Television Specialist Jeff Baur, outlines the program and shows the reactions of the inmates. (You may not be able to view YouTube version below from a CDCR computer. Here is a Windows Media Player version.)

What is Hooks and Needles?

Marcia Devers, Hooks and Needles program sponsor, said the population at Folsom State Prison is aging and many of the inmates have grandchildren. In the program, the inmates learn the crochet.

“We don’t think about this type of activity going on here,” she said.

In addition to helping needy children and families in the community, “they like to be able to make something and send home,” she said.

One of the inmates agreed.

“My daughter tells me all the time when I send home scarves and hats, my grandkids see the envelope coming and know it’s something from (their grandpa) and they can’t wait to open it up,” he said.

How do they help at-risk children?

“We did about 300 scarves and 20 hats total,” said one inmate with the program in the 2013 video. “It’s cold outside, everybody wants scarves.”

Diane Shepherd, Executive Chief of Correctional Workers Who Care (CWWC), said there is a need for these items among those families who are struggling.

“I think there’s a great need for something like this, because I know times are really hard right now. It’s nice to be able to fill the gap a little bit,” she said in a taped interview last year. “We did a yarn drive and everyone donated yarn. These (inmates) came on board for us and they did a really, really good job. It’s cold and the families are (thankful). Some of these kids don’t even have coats or hats or jackets. I think it makes a big difference and raises and awareness to what giving is.”

Some of the male inmates enjoy learning to crochet.

“I never did see myself doing crochet. To tell you the truth, I never did think it would be something I’d be interested in. … It’s very therapeutic. It’s time consuming, but at the same time, you know you’re doing something for kids out there in the winter time or women stuck inside a shelter,” he said. “When you finish a product and you know you actually did something, it’s like, damn, I did that. I haven’t experienced that in a long time, feeling really, really good about something I did. Especially when you have other things you’re not proud of.”

Another inmate said he plans to continue helping after he’s released.

“These teddy bears are going to at-risk kids. That makes me feel really good,” he said. “When I get out in 2015, I’d like to continue to work with the Lions Club and make teddy bears.”

One inmate said he was grateful to be able to see a video of the children receiving the inmate-crafted items.

“I’ll do this until my fingers bleed if I have to, knowing it’s going to someone in need. … It makes a big difference seeing the kids actually getting the items. We normally don’t see that side so being able to see a child with something you make, it makes everything worth it,” he said. “I want to do more, not just the same amount we did this time, but a whole lot more.”

Another inmate, having watched the video of the items being given to underserved children, said it was rewarding.

“It touches me deeply. Sometimes you get emotional because you know what it takes to do it in here but then you know the end result of somebody out there really needing it and appreciating it and accepting the gift from in here,” he said.

A male inmate said the men are just trying to give back to the community.

Another inmate said the project was a way of making good on past wrongs.

“We are all in here for doing some really crazy stuff. None of us are in here for being the smartest of people so when you do finally find yourself … you want to go back and have a do-over,” he said. “But with a program like this, you can have a do-over.”

How can I help?

CDCR, Correctional Workers Who Care (CWWC), Laguna Creek Lion’s Club and local community leaders are teaming up this holiday season to host the third annual Meadowview Holiday Festival from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Dec. 13, 2014.  During the event, youth under the age of 17 will receive a coat. They also receive a hand-knitted scarf or blanket produced by the Hook and Needles Group at Folsom State Prison and Folsom’s Women’s Facility.

You can help by donating yarn.  More than 400 skeins of yarn will be needed to ensure every child who attends the holiday event leaves with a warm winter scarf or blanket.  Donated yarn will be accepted through Friday, Nov. 28, 2014.  Collection bins will be located at the following locations:

1515 “S” Street
South Building
Sacramento, CA 95811
Bin location: Elevator lobby

9838 Old Placerville Road
Main Reception Desk – Lobby
Sacramento, CA 95827
Bin location: Reception lobby

10961 Sun Center Drive
Rancho Cordova, CA 95670
Bin location: Main entrance lobby

10000 Goethe Road
Sacramento, CA 95827
Bin location: Building C, Main entrance lobby

Solano State Prison
2100 Peabody Road
Vacaville, CA 95696
Bin location: Main entrance to Level II and
Level III staff entrance

San Quentin State Prison
100 Main Street
San Quentin, CA 94964
Bin location: East and
West entrance gate

For those out of the area, mail donations to:
Folsom State Prison / Hooks & Needles
Marcia Devers
300 Prison Road
Repressa, CA 95671

On behalf of the CDCR and local families, thank you in advance for your contribution. For questions about making a donation or attending the event, call Diane Shepherd at (916) 806-2507 or call Albert Rivas at (916) 445-4950.

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