By Bill Enfield
Office of Public and Employee Communications
An inmate clerk surprised Marcia Devers, an Associate Governmental Program Analyst at Folsom State Prison, eight years ago with a request for her to sponsor an inmate hobby group.
The real surprise?
The inmates wanted to learn how to crochet. They wanted to make beanies for infants and donate their work to local hospitals.
“Not knowing what this would entail, I said sure,” Devers said. “Within a few months we had approximately five to eight inmates meeting in the chow hall teaching each other to crochet. What a sight! They endured a lot of teasing and good-natured ridicule from other inmates. But they soldiered on.”
The program now averages about 30 inmate participants a year, Devers said. Thousands of crocheted items have been donated and distributed by non-profit groups.
“(The inmates) are self-taught and most learn very quickly,” she said. “Once they learn the basic stitches they are off and running. Some say it is such a stress reliever. They love doing something that is worthwhile.”
Initially, Devers had problems donating the crocheted products.
When she tried to donate the items to hospitals, she was hit with a barrage of questions. Were they sanitized? Were they packaged after sanitizing?
But she found help.
“One day I was introduced to Cris Gerard and her team of eight dedicated ladies of the Folsom Lake Lion’s Club,” Devers said. “They helped us facilitate donating the items. We have had the great fortune in having their support and partnership – they have made all the difference and gave us validation in what we were doing.”
Soon the Lion’s Club became the distribution and marketing arm for the program, Gerard said.
“We find it very rewarding to help,” she said. “(The crochet program) is good both for inmates and recipients.”
She said the items often go to “kids who have nothing. And the kids love them.”
The inmates are so talented at crochet they have won awards for their work.
“Two years ago, the Lion’s suggested we enter the California State Fair and they offered to pay the registration fee for each inmate submitting an item,” Devers said.
The first year the inmates entered, they won eight out of 10 awards. The second year, they won nine out of 10 awards, she said.
Now the program is so popular there is a waiting list to get in.
“Many (inmates) are crocheting while waiting to be a member,” Devers said. “They crochet on their own and donate those items to us.”
And there is a long list of entities wanting the donated items.
One recipient is Correctional Workers Who Care (CWWC), a non-profit group of CDCR personnel who sponsor the annual Meadowview holiday party in the fall.
The crocheted products – including scarves and mittens – are given to needy children, said Diana Shepherd, CWWC president.
She said, “I hear from the kids every festival that they look forward to theses knitted items. I always explain to them who knitted the items and they are always surprised and thankful.
“We started putting out banners and the kids sit down and wrote a thank you note to the knitters,” Shepherd said. “They love to pose and model in their hats and scarves.”
She said she can’t wait to see what the inmates have made this year.
“During the festival I even wear an item,” she said. “When they compliment me, I tell them I did not buy it in a store it was knitted by the Hooks and Needles Program at Folsom Prison.”
Last year, a beading and crocheting class for inmates was launched at Pelican Bay State Prison.
Here is the where to send yarn donations for the Folsom program:
FSP Hooks & Needles/M. Devers
300 Prison Road
Represa, CA 95671 OR: firstname.lastname@example.org
Yarn only, please do not include any patterns, needles, pins etc. they will all be tossed out.
Contact Folsom Lake Lions Club President Dee Farmer at (916) 988-2194 or email her at
email@example.com for more information and to coordinate yarn pick-up or delivery.