Nearly home. (Taken with Instagram)
Nearly home. (Taken with Instagram)
How Knitting Behind Bars Transformed Maryland Convicts:
In late 2009, Lynn Zwerling stood in front of 600 male prisoners at the Pre-Release Unit in Jessup, Maryland. “Who wants to knit?” she asked the burly crowd. They looked at her like she was crazy.
Yet almost two years later, Zwerling and her associates have taught more than 100 prisoners to knit, while dozens more are on a waiting list to take her weekly class. “I have guys that have never missed one time in two years,” Zwerling says. “Some reported to us that they miss dinner to come to class.”
Zwerling, 67, retired in 2005 after 18 years of selling cars in Columbia, Maryland. She didn’t know what to do with her time, so she followed her passion and started a knitting group in her town. No one came to the first meeting, but the group quickly grew to 500 members. “I looked around the room one day and I saw a zen quality about it,” Zwerling says. “Here were people who didn’t know each other, had nothing in common, sitting together peacefully like little lambs knitting. I thought, ‘It makes me and these people feel so good. What would happen if I took knitting to a population that never experienced this before?’”
Her first thought was to bring knitting to a men’s prison, but she was turned down repeatedly. Wardens assumed the men wouldn’t be interested in a traditionally feminine hobby and worried about freely handing out knitting needles to prisoners who had been convicted of violent crimes. Five years passed before the Pre-Release Unit in Jessup accepted her, and Knitting Behind Bars was born. “I [wanted to teach] them something that I love that I really believe will make them focus and happy,” Zwerling says. “I really believe that it’s more than a craft. This has the ability to transform you.”
The men were reluctant at first, complaining that knitting was too girly or too difficult. But Zwerling assured them men had invented the craft, then gave them a five-minute knitting lesson she swears can teach anyone. Suddenly, Zwerling says, the men “found the zen,” and got hooked. Now, every Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m., they come to class, leaving their crimes and the hierarchies of prison life behind.
They started by knitting comfort dolls, which they gave to children removed from their homes because of domestic issues. Then they moved on to hats for kids at the inner-city elementary school many of the prisoners attended, Zwerling says. “If you look at them, they’re covered with tattoos, they’re rough looking, and many of the young guys don’t have all their teeth,” she says. “But it doesn’t feel rough. They’re very respectful and grateful and very happy to knit.”
The prison’s assistant warden, Margaret Chippendale, believes the men involved with KBB get into trouble less often. “It’s very positive because you can see when you go into the room, the dynamics of their conversation; very calm, very soothing,” Chippendale says. “It radiates even when they leave the room and go out into the institution.”
Richy Horton, 38, served almost four years at the Pre-Release Unit and reluctantly joined KBB about 6 months before he was released. “I was like, I’m not going to that thing,” Horton says. “And then I went, and you were actually speaking to real people. People can’t really understand [that in prison] you’re completely separated from anything normal or real in the world. You’re always told what to do and when to do it, so to have people come in and treat you like a human being means so much. They came in and they were like my mom.”
Horton and the other men formed deep friendships with Zwerling and her fellow volunteers, Sheila Rovelstad, 61, and Lea Heirs, 58. “They tell us their stories and dreams,” Zwerling says. “And some of them lie to us. They don’t want us to know the really terrible things they did.”
Each week the men eagerly await the women’s arrival, then promptly get to work. “It takes you away a little,” Horton says. “You have to watch what you’re doing, otherwise your stitches will become loose or tight or you’ll skip stitches. It almost makes you feel like you don’t have to be anything. You’re all sitting there knitting. You can just be yourself.”
Horton was released from prison last December and now works in construction. He believes his involvement with KBB helped him get out of jail and onto parole, showing the parole interviewers his small but positive effort to help the outside community. He continues to keep in touch with the women of KBB and is currently knitting a beaded scarf. “They’re not normal people,” Horton says of Zwerling, Rovelstad, and Heirs. “They’re almost like saints.”
To donate to Knitting Behind Bars, visit their Etsy shop, or contact Lynn Zwerling at email@example.com.
Photos courtesy of Lynn Zwerling
Via the Baltimore Sun
In the study of risk perception, people talk about “the licensing effect”: when you take a vitamin pill, for example, you think you’ve done something healthy and wholesome, so you permit yourself to eat more chips and have a cigarette. It sounds like a nice idea, but a bit vague.
Two new experiments put flesh on these bones. Firstly, researchers took 74 undergraduates who were daily smokers, and divided them into two groups at random. The first group were given a dummy pill, a placebo, and were told just that: you’re in the control group, taking a dummy pill, with no active ingredient. The other participants were in the vitamin pill group: you’ve been given a vitamin pill, they were told.
But in fact, the researchers had lied. Everyone in the study got the same dummy pill, with no active ingredient. Half of them thought they’d had a health-giving vitamin pill, because the intention was to see whether people’s health behaviours change if they think they’ve had a nice, healthy vitamin pill.
After the pills, they were given a survey to fill out. The results were startling. Firstly, people who thought they’d had a vitamin pill gave different answers on the survey. These featured questions from the excellently titled Adolescent Invulnerability Scale (which has been reasonably well validated elsewhere), such as “Special problems, getting an illness or disease, are not likely to happen to me”, “I’m unlikely to be injured in an accident”, and so on. People who thought they’d had a vitamin pill rated themselves as generally more invulnerable.
The results for smoking were more worrying. There’s no doubt smoking is bad for you. There’s also no doubt the motives and justifications for smoking are complex. But people who thought they’d had a vitamin pill were 50% more likely to have a cigarette – 89% compared with 62% – and that result was highly statistically significant.
“The magnificent Skulls design reflects Barbara’s mischievous side…”
“People act like the Seventies and the Eighties were this Golden Age because it was the dawn of punk and hardcore. But hardly anybody was into that. It was maybe the only thing that made the Eighties bearable, but for everybody who was into Dead Kennedys or Minor Threat, there were another 50,000 people who’d much rather listen to the Eagles or Saturday Night Fever. That’s what we were up against. And those of us who’d gotten a whiff of how wild and cool the Sixties were, to see it all get dumbed down and mellowed out and sold back to us at twice the price in the Seventies before punk happened, that was a horrible heartbreak. Right when we were coming of age, the acid’s no good anymore and all you’re presented for music is soft rock and disco. No wonder punk happened!”
– Jello Biafra
May 9, 1957. From Five decades of Bay Area bathing suits.
Southside Chicago, 1941.
“I could end the deficit in 5 minutes. You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP all sitting members of congress are ineligible for reelection.”
– Warren Buffett
So guys who work for either a) high-powered women, or b) men who are in what are perceived as “women’s jobs,” are viewed as less manly, and this impacts both their social standing and earnings potential. There’s a price to be paid for being a trailblazer; for men, there’s also a price to be paid for working for one.
Unfortunately, this isn’t surprising if you think about it for a minute. Still total garbage, though.
The most sanctimonious of our newspapers solemnly intoned that “women need to take to the streets to condemn violence, but not for the right to be called ‘slut’ “. But it was not heeded. The women (and men) who are set to prance the streets of dozens of cities in underwear and fetish gear for weeks to come will be taking liberties. That’s where liberation begins.
This fantastic figure, displayed in the Saint-Étienne church in the city Bar-le-Duc in France, once held the heart of its subject— René de Chalon, Prince of Orange—in its raised hand, like a reliquary. The prince died at age 25 in battle following which, depending on which story you believe, either he or his widow requested that Chalon portray him in his tomb figure as “not a standard figure but a life-size skeleton with strips of dried skin flapping over a hollow carcass, whose right hand clutches at the empty rib cage while the left hand holds high his heart in a grand gesture” (Medrano-Cabral) set against a backdrop representing his earthly riches. Alas, the sculpture no longer contains Chalon’s heart; it is rumored to have gone missing sometime around the French revolution.