For the instructors and the students, it’s more than just another activity to help prisoners pass away the weeks, months and years.
“This isn’t about knitting. This is resocialization,” said Zwerling, who created the program after picking up the practice soon after she retired.
To help impart life lessons, Zwerling and her co-teachers structure the class with exacting rules: To be a member, every student must sign an attendance sheet, which encourages accountability. Profanity, racial slurs, and nicknames are prohibited. Students are banned if they break any of the rules, and the men are prohibited from missing three classes in a row unless they are sick or observing a religious holiday.
And perhaps the last rule is one of the most important: Every new classmate must tell someone they’ve hurt or disappointed about their weekly practice and eventually knit that person a hat. “I’m going to tell my mother,” said a young student, whose name wasn’t cleared for publication by the facility.
In many cases, Zwerling is the closest thing to a maternal figure the students have at Dorsey Run, a minimum-security prison of 500 men in Anne Arundel County near the Howard County line. Indeed, part of the program’s intent is to instill a sense of giving. The hats Zwerling’s students make are also donated to a nearby charity and Baltimore City public school students every winter.Mark Stapleton, 48, of Taneytown, Md., said he was mocked by other students about his participation in the class. “Some guy would say, ‘You’re knitting? That’s for girls.’ Later, that same guy is sitting next to me in class,” he said.
Stapleton was released from prison last year after serving time for money laundering. He now knits for his children and for those at a hospital in Carroll County. He said he learned the lessons of empathy and responsibility and noted that many of his fellow students couldn’t wait for their weekly classes to begin. [x]
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