Mass. female inmates learn to crochet, donate blankets to dog pound

Crocheting is part of the "healthy hobbies" program for the women living in the minimum security pre-release facility

By Jill Harmacinski
The Eagle-Tribune

SALISBURY, Mass. — Oliver, a therapy dog, started visiting a group of female inmates monthly to help relieve their stress and calm them.

In return, the women started crocheting blankets to comfort Oliver and dogs who end up at the pound in Lawrence.

An inmate in the Women in Transition program with the blankets she crocheted in 2021 for a nonprofit that helps people in need of housing.
An inmate in the Women in Transition program with the blankets she crocheted in 2021 for a nonprofit that helps people in need of housing. (Essex County Sheriff's Department)

More than two dozen handmade blankets were displayed on a table at the Women In Transition center this week. All of them, including one with Oliver's name stitched into it, would soon be collected by Lawrence police Lt. Sandy Picard, Oliver's handler.

Oliver's blanket will go in her police cruiser. The other blankets were taken back to Lawrence to use in cages at the pound.

"It's a happy reminder of home and it's peaceful," said inmate Kara Voisine of Maine of her crocheting projects.

Vanessa Rojas of Salem agreed, adding she crochets because it makes other people happy.

"I love it ... . It's a beautiful thing to see people enjoy your work," Rojas said.

Crocheting is part of the "healthy hobbies" program the women living at WIT can participate in. The woman living at the WIT are completing sentences from a variety of offenses and have been transferred from MCI Framingham and South Bay in Suffolk County.

The minimum security and pre-release facility was on the first of its kind in Essex County, serving women with drug and alcohol addictions.

The facility provides programs and services to prepare women for life after incarceration by helping them obtain the resources and skills they will need to successfully reintegrate into society. Various programming components include individual and group counseling, education, employment, and community service assignments.

Crocheting is just one skill the women can learn in their "healthy habits" program. WIT inmates previously donated handmade blankets to a local veterans group.

Melkis Pena of Lynn said once she learned to crochet she was able to make blankets for her son, grandson and others in her family. Another inmate is crocheting handbags with her new skills.

"When I start crocheting, three hours will pass. It's just so relaxing," Pena said.

Rojas noted that handmade items are "gifts of the heart," that are often passed on to children and grandchildren.

"They are not the kinds of things you can buy in a store," she said.

In addition to blankets, the women are hoping to make dog toys to donate to Picard along with mittens and hats to give to people in need.

The women at WIT are also tending to a large garden with a variety of vegetables this summer. They are responsible for weeding and watering, harvesting and then using the produce for their meals.

Many of the women who come to WIT are single mothers. Staffers emphatically stress the importance of "mind, heart of soul and physical well being," said Heidi Mora, superintendent of the Sheriff's Department's prerelease programs.

While they are living in a "fast world," Mora said they hope the inmates learn "that anything they put their time and effort into they are going to see results."

The end goal is to "build the women's confidence," said Jennifer Murphy, WIT assistant superintendent.

Donations of yarn and fleece are sought for the women's crocheting and other craft projects. Email to make a donation.

Picard said she will also accept donations for WIT at the Lawrence police station at 90 Lowell St.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.


(c)2023 The Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, Mass.)
Visit The Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, Mass.) at
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Recommended for you

Copyright © 2023 Corrections1. All rights reserved.