Tattooed prisoners sitting in the Pre-Release Unit in Jessup, Maryland gather together weekly for the knitting class. What? Male prisoners knitting while incarcerated? What a great visual.
67 year old Lynn Zwerling, founder of Knitting Behind Bars, has found that her passion for knitting and the quiet meditative state that it brings to the knitter was the perfect hobby to bring to male prisoners who suffered from lack of focus, control and anger.
“People really can’t 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.”
According to Zwerling, "Knitting provides everything you need to do — everything you should have learned in kindergarten. It teaches you how to focus. It teaches you how to make a task and meet that goal. It teaches you now to ... control your anger. ... All of these are life skills, are job skills. ... Skills that, quite possibly, many people in our society are lacking."
Zwerling's program, Knitting Behind Bars, has become an overnight sensation at the Pre-Release Unit in Jessup. There is a long waiting list to get into the Thursday night 2-hour class. The class was presented to several correctional facilities in Maryland and most prison wardens and staff believed that male prisoners would find the hobby too feminine. Finally in 2009, Knitting Behind Bars was accepted into the Pre-Release unit at Jessup.
In the beginning, Ms. Zweling's class was received very skeptically. However, once the prisoners were able to actually begin the meditative and focused task of knitting--they were hooked and her classed filled up instantly.
So, what do these prisoners knit? In the early classes they knit small dolls that are then given to Medical First Responders who give them to children who are involved in either domestic violence cases, where they may be torn from their family with no comforting toys around them or even in cases of accidents.
From there, the prisoners then learn to knit from a square to round and create hats. These hats are then given to either children in need or to their own children whom they may have not connected with in a long time.
Ultimately, what Knitting Behind Bars brings to society and prisoners is a way to control emotions and anger, stay focused on the task at hand and in the end--give your hard work away to another who is in need and know that your knitting will bring joy and healing.