March 27, 2014

On the hook: Correctional students knit for charity

Juvenile correctional facility students knit garments for charity

by Mitchell Kirk Pharos-Tribune

---- — Derrick, 17, a student at the Logansport Juvenile Correctional Facility, sat hooking strands of orange and green yarn around the pegs of a circular loom, the bottom of which held a couple feet of scarf that spilled out toward the floor.

Describing himself as a stressful person, he said the activity relaxes him. He said he worries about being locked up and about what's happening beyond the walls of the facility, the fences and the razor wire, or "the outs," as he refers to it.

"When I'm irritated on the unit, I get out my loom," he said. "When I just knit, I think, 'What am I stressing for?' It keeps you calm."

Derrick is one of currently 16 students in the Logansport Juvenile Correctional Facility's Purposeful Living Units Serve, or PLUS, program, who spend part of their required community service hours knitting. They knit hats and scarves for babies and adults along with baby blankets and baby buntings, all of which are donated to the Emmaus Mission Center. Students and staff say the activity benefits those outside the facility while contributing toward the ultimate goal of returning the juveniles to society.

The Rev. Dr. Connie Hedges, chaplain at the Logansport Juvenile Correctional Facility, said the knitting program had four looms when it started in 2012. By Christmas of that year, students had created a total of 25 items. In 2013, the program was able to acquire more looms and more supplies, leading to a total of 51 items at the end of the year. This year, there are 20 looms and Hedges predicts more than 100 items will be donated.

Students do their knitting in the PLUS program's day room, where they can also watch TV, use computers and play video and board games. A shelf in the room is filled with plastic tubs containing brightly colored balls of yarn, looms and partially completed projects.

"It keeps them busy," Hedges said, "it keeps them focused on doing something for someone else."

The PLUS program is one of three therepeutic communities in the facility. It has 20 slots and allows more privileges, requiring a student who has proved himself behaviorally as a member of other general population units. A student must go at least 30 days without any disciplinary paperwork filed against them before they can even apply. Students at the facility enter either a character-based or faith-based tract and the PLUS program accepts both.

Anthony, 16, has knitted several scarves, baby hats and adult hats during his time in the PLUS program.

He said he enjoys it because "it helps out people in need," adding that he hopes he'd be helped in the same way should he ever need it.

Additionally, he can't complain about how much faster the activity makes his community service hours go by.

"By the time you look up at the clock, it's almost shift change," he said.

Anthony was involved with gangs before coming to the Logansport Juvenile Correctional Facility. He said he chose the character-based tract to better himself and get out of his old habits.

"You don't want to be here, it's not fun," he said was the most significant thing he's learned so far, going on to describe the strict rules, having to be quiet all the time and constant line formations he and his fellow students have to abide by.

Since entering the facility, Anthony has taken vocational classes in money management and cable installation and is looking forward to seeking employment when his stay is complete.

Derrick, working away on his orange and green scarf, said he chose the faith-based tract in order to build a relationship with God.

"Before I got locked up, I didn't have much faith in anything but money," he said.

Now he is studying for the Test Assessing Secondary Completion, or TASC, which recently replaced the General Educational Development test in Indiana.

Both said they made it to the PLUS program by working hard, achieving all of the requirements of their former units, avoiding situations rendering them guilty by association and ignoring those attempting to provoke them into confrontations.

"Here, you got to let it go," Derrick said. "Why care about what anybody else says?"

There are many things Derrick said he has learned at the facility he plans on applying to his life once he leaves. The knitting is one of them. He has four nephews and a niece whose birth is expected around the time his sentence is up. He said he looks forward to making hats and scarves for them.

Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or Follow him: @PharosMAK