“I call it knots of love,” Camilla Handy said as she crocheted a bright green scarf that will be sold to benefit the Shelter for Help in Emergency. “I pride myself on helping people, and I’ve been to that women’s shelter in the past myself seeking refuge, so this is a good cause.”
Handy, who learned to crochet when she lived in foster homes growing up, sat this week with other smiling women also busily knitting or crocheting around a table filled with a rainbow of colored yarns while soft music played in the background.
It looked like a typical knitting club. Only the women’s garb gave away that they are inmates and this is taking place at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.
“I used to be a sports mom and helped with baking sales,” shared Dawn Warren.
“I’m in jail because I got my third DUI,” Warren said. “My husband and I had separated. I felt lost and found comfort in the bottle.”
“The policeman stopped me because I had an expired sticker and then he saw my eyes were glossy. It’s hard to be here because I have children. … God saved my life by putting me here. I’ve been sober now for several months.”
“What this class and the wonderful teacher, Joey Snyder, offers me is something I’ve been longing for — peace and calmness,” Warren said, her face lighting up. “I don’t want to come back here. I want to recover and be a counselor and set a good example for my children.”
The knitting and crocheting class are part of the Beyond the Bars program. It’s one of several educational and enrichment classes offered at the jail, and the number of participants can vary.
Snyder, a retired nurse, teaches the knitting and crocheting class. Many students say her positive and kind spirit is the reason they’re here.
“I feel I get more than I give,” Snyder said. “Craft classes give them the opportunity to feel proud, happy and successful about the work they are creating. They are a great group of gals that hopefully will someday be contributing on the outside, beyond the bars.”
Snyder believes the optimism and focus knitting teaches will help these ladies overcome their life challenges.
“I know when I knit, I feel a concentration and relaxation that is like meditation,” she said. “If I can give them the gift of single mindfulness that I have experienced from knitting and crocheting, I feel I have truly shared something wonderful.”
“It brings inner peace,” agreed Kim Brown, who is awaiting sentencing for cocaine distribution. “It was the result of hard times and poor choices,” she said. “But the positive of crocheting takes my mind away from the negative, and I’ve achieved peace within me.”
Programs Director Phyllis Back said the knitting is a way for the women to reach out from the jail to the world at large.
“Just because a person is incarcerated doesn’t mean they’re not still part of the community,” Back said. “The goal with our classes is to get them back on the right foot and in a positive direction. In these programs we address what is absent from their lives, what could help them be better citizens and how to improve their self-esteem. Even the smallest bit of that when they go back to the community will make a better community.”
Back said what the students create is sold and half the proceeds go to a charity, in this instance Shelter for Help in Emergency. The rest of the funds go back into the Beyond the Bars program. Anyone interested in learning more can go to beyond-bars.com.
“The whole idea is to make it full circle,” Back said. “The people in the program took from society, but the program gives them the opportunity to give back.”
Brown likes that. “If I can give back and help someone for a change, that’s wonderful,” she said. “My life goal now is to help others.”