- Associated Press - Friday, January 9, 2015

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Mary Gabel is pretty quick at crocheting MU-themed baby hats for the Restorative Justice Program at the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia, Missouri.

It takes Gabel, 58, about 45 minutes to finish a hat. After all, she’s been crocheting for 40 years. She said she often has to remind younger inmates at the prison that it takes time and practice to be as fast as she is, the Columbia Missourian (https://bit.ly/17868OB ) reported.

Gabel is one of three women at the prison who crochet the hats through the Restorative Justice program in cooperation with ParentLink, which is selling the hats to raise money for a campaign to boost awareness of shaken baby syndrome.

Shaken baby syndrome destroys brain cells and prevents the baby from getting enough oxygen, according to the Mayo Clinic website. The syndrome can cause permanent brain damage or death.

Patricia Stathem, the institutional restorative justice coordinator at the Vandalia prison, supervises the inmates who make the hats. The Restorative Justice Program encourages offenders to reflect on the harm their crimes have caused and to repair relationships with their victims, the community and their families.

Stathem said Gabel has been a key contributor to the effort.

“She really took the lead in motivating other offenders in this program,” Stathem said. “When (ParentLink) asked for more hats, she said she would do it even if she would have to do it herself.”

Gabel and her colleagues volunteer to make 60 hats per month. The women start with yarn provided by ParentLink and follow a newborn-hat pattern. Some are made slightly larger to accommodate older children.

“You just pick up this color yarn or that color yarn and go with it,” Gabel said. “It helps keep my mind where it belongs. You can do your time, or your time can do you.”

The women integrate stripes or tiny crocheted paw prints and flowers to the hats. Once the hat is finished, they add a tag reading, “Always Love Me. Never, Ever Shake Me.”

The hats are then sent to ParentLink and sold along with a pamphlet containing information about how parents can calm a crying baby, and themselves. The tag also includes a “Warmline” for parents to call when they need support or parenting information.

Women under Stathem’s supervision have made hats, blankets, pillows, quilts and other items that are sent around the state. The crocheted hats are new.

“They’re changing the lives of someone else, and their lives are changed in the process,” Stathem said.

Gabel said the Restorative Justice program has saved her while in prison.

“It’s a great thing to know you’re helping others.”

The idea was the brainchild of the ParentLink advisory board about a year and a half ago, and the hats went up for sale full force six months ago. Thus far, the organization has raised $1,200 for its prevention project.

ParentLink Director Carol Mertensmeyer said the theme of the hats will be expanded to include other Missouri sports teams as the project grows.

Gabel said it’s such a good cause that she wants to continue making the hats for ParentLink even after she’s released in July 2016.

“I don’t look at is as a job but a way to help children,” Gabel said. “If I can save one child, I have done my duty.”


Information from: Columbia Missourian, https://www.columbiamissourian.com

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