Inmates learning to quilt in hopes of turning their lives around - KPTV - FOX 12

Inmates learning to quilt in hopes of turning their lives around

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WILSONVILLE, OR (KPTV) -

They say when life goes to pieces, try quilting. The quilters at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville know all about life gone wrong.

Serving prison sentences for crimes ranging from DUII to drugs to identity theft, about 80 inmates spend two hours a week learning to quilt.

FOX 12 dropped in on the Tuesday morning quilting class recently. The quilters busily "stitched their ditches" or chatted and chuckled about bias and seams with their quilting teachers – all volunteer experienced quilters from outside the prison walls.

Sewing machines buzzed, while patches of solid and print fabric – square, triangular, even circular – brightened a large otherwise undistinguished-looking room. 

And if it weren't for the big, bold orange "INMATE" letters written on the prisoner's sweatshirts, this would look like a quilting class in any school classroom in America. 

"I don't feel like I'm in prison when I'm quilting," Shanoa Hammons-Williams told FOX 12.  She is serving time for identity theft and hindering prosecution. 

Coffee Creek offers inmates lots of job and educational programs. But why quilting? 

Inmates say the quilting class has taught them a lot: problem-solving, persistence and, adds Heidi Stoner, "Patience."

Stoner is also serving time for identity theft. 

"You need patience in everything you do. You need patience dealing with the workplace, dealing with other people, and I think it's a valuable lesson that I needed to learn," she said. 

Amanda Mooney is the Life Skills Coordinator for Coffee Creek. 

"I think quilting is good for women who are in prison because it gives them a sense of accomplishment," Mooney said. 

Michelle Fletcher is serving a sentence for criminally negligent homicide. She told FOX 12 she had used drugs for years, drove under the influence, and crashed, killing her passenger – her best friend.

"When I get home I can't wait for my family to see me to be able to start and finish a project because it's been a long time since they've seen me do that," she said. 

These are not short, simple projects. They are long-term. Most inmates will spend 18 months or more to finish the three quilts required to complete the quilting course. 

The first two quilts they make will be sent to nonprofits such as hospitals, foster care programs or domestic violence shelters.  

"It's a way for me to give back to my community," Stoner said. 

The third quilt is a perk for inmates. They get to keep it and proudly place it on their prison bunks. 

Participating in these quilting classes is an earned privilege. And when the classes are over, all tools – scissors and cutters – have to be accounted for and every inmate is patted down.

For more about the program, visit CoffeeCreekQuilters.org

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