- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2001

CUMBERLAND, Md. They come to the visitor center three times a week with a singular purpose: to piece together colorful swatches of fabric.
They will cut and stitch and turn rags into rich and glorious quilts that will comfort the sick and forlorn and give their own spirits a boost.
The eight men belong to a quilting club at the minimum-security prison camp in Western Maryland. Some savor the artistic challenge of designing and creating a quilt from heaps of donated fabric. Jason Haigh, 30, discovered other reasons to be proud of his handiwork.
"It has a calming influence," says Haigh, who is serving a 12-year sentence for drug conspiracy. "I haven't actually done anything positive in a long time. Some of my guys kind of give me a hard time, but it doesn't matter. I do it for me, not for them."
The men who joined this unlikeliest of prison clubs first expressed reluctance, but only until they learned where the quilts were going. About three dozen quilts were donated to Project Linus, a national charity connected to children's hospitals. Two dozen more have gone to the Family Crisis Resource Center, which helps victims of domestic abuse.
"I have a little boy, 4 years old this year, and I kind of thought, 'What if he were sick, and he got a quilt?' It would be kind of nice if he got something to hold on to," Haigh says.
The prison club was formed two years ago by a member of the local Schoolhouse Quilters Guild. Since Todd Adams, a drug offender, learned how to cut and stitch, he has made nine or 10 quilts of increasing complexity. He also has become a teacher.
An inmate's first quilt goes to charity; his second goes home.
Kenneth Yount sent one home to Orange, Va., when his first grandchild, also named Kenneth, was born. The baby died three months later of crib death. He was buried in the quilt.
"I got down on my knees and prayed and it came to me that a part of me will always be with him," Yount says.
Two quilts the inmates have produced as group projects display other sorrows. One, called "To Daddy With Love," features 22 panels derived from letters and multicolored crayon drawings made by the prisoners' children.
"I love you, Dad. I wish you could come home tomorrow," says a stick-figure girl in one of the panels.
"Memories of Men Behind Bars" incorporates 33 images: a guitar behind bars, a rose encircled by thorns, and Reginald Johnson's cryptic sketch of a courtroom, captioned, "Judge me by twelve before you carry me with six."
"I guess I had a little attitude with the justice system," Johnson says.
The men are learning that skill comes with difficulty.
"You sit there in front of the machine and if you slip a little bit, you can put the needle through your finger," Yount says, "so you've got to pay attention to what you're doing."
The quilts have won prizes at contests sponsored by the Schoolhouse Quilters Guild, some of whose members volunteer as quilting coaches at the 250-bed prison camp.
"To be perfectly honest, the first time we came, we were a little nervous," says coach Linda Leathersich. "But we felt comfortable right from the first week and have never had any second thoughts."
Steven Finger, executive assistant for the prison camp and adjacent medium-security prison, said quilting is just one of the community-service projects inmates are encouraged to join. Others have planted trees, rehabilitated low-income housing and maintained the nearby C&O; Canal National Historical Park.
The prison quilters are not paid they have other jobs in the institution and the handiwork doesn't reduce their prison time, Mr. Finger says. "But it does help the inmates stay connected with the community, and it helps increase their self-esteem and their sense of self-worth."

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