By Jason Rose ’11
Picture this: within the confines of a maximum-security prison exist prisoners – big, burly, often tattooed – reading, lifting weights, sleeping and…quilting.
This was the scene viewed by the members of William Woods University’s criminal justice fraternity as they toured the facilities of Jefferson City Correctional Center this fall.
The group was there as part of the Jeans for Justice project, delivering jeans and other materials to the inmates to indeed quilt, part of a behavior-based program offered by JCCC.
WWU’s chapter of the criminal justice fraternity, Lambda Alpha Epsilon, was founded in the spring of 2010. It is a national fraternity for those studying or employed in the criminal justice system.
The group’s sponsor is Peggy Nickerson, assistant professor and coordinator of paralegal, criminal justice and juvenile justice programs at William Woods. Robert Ahsens, J.D.,who teaches criminal justice classes, is the co- sponsor.
The chapter gathered the materials over the summer from donors and thrift shops and delivered them to JCCC. The prisoners’ quilting is done as part of a program that also has prisoners making furniture for office buildings, license plates for the state of Missouri and uniforms for the prison.
Some quilts go directly to local hospitals. Others are donated to various charities for fundraising auctions and raffles.
“This is a program where inmates are trying to give back to the community. What I love is that they get a chance to make their life worthwhile and help those that do have the opportunity to get out straighten up before reentry,” said Cory Harlan of Wellsville, Mo., chapter president.
Reentry is one change the students are seeing in the criminal justice field during this experience.
“There’s a push these days in the criminal justice society to not only punish the victims with jail time, but to rehabilitate them and help them change their lives so they don’t reoffend,” said Nickerson.
“The goal is to provide offenders with tools when they leave. There’s a real move for acknowledging victims and helping the inmates straighten up,” Nickerson said. “We are excited to be able to assist the program and to visit the prison, which is quite an experience.”
Working with Jeans for Justice enhances the educational experience for students. They see and participate in the system and also get to contribute.
“I stand in the classroom and jaw, but when we go see these things, the learning is greatly enhanced,” Nickerson said. “Experiential learning makes what they learn real, it puts an image to the text.”
“It’s one of those things you don’t forget easily. We got to see the other side of the textbook and contribute to the community,” said Justin Simms of Festus, Mo., senior criminal justice major.
“These prisoners are artists, painters, sculptors, teachers … so much more than just prisoners. They can be productive members of society, even from inside prison walls,” said Harlan.
And yes – even quilters.
WWU’s criminal justice fraternity provides jeans for offenders incarcerated in the Jefferson City Correctional Center to use for making quilts.
Inmates of the Jefferson City Correctional Center work on their quilts.