Creating crafts behind bars

Hiland Mountain program teaches inmates new skills


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An inmate at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River works on a quilt Nov. 7.

MIKE NESPER

Andraya LaFleur learned how to quilt in a unique place — prison.

When LaFleur came to Hiland Mountain Correctional Center last year, another inmate introduced her to the hobby craft program. Until her recent release, LaFleur worked as a hobby craft monitor, teaching the skills she learned to other inmates.

“Everything I know is because what I’ve learned from these women,” LaFleur said in an interview last month.

Quilting became a daily activity for LaFleur. She worked 25 hours a week as a monitor, plus spent her free time in the sewing area.

“I love to quilt,” she said.

All inmates enrolled in the hobby craft program must apply and meet certain requirements, such as no write-ups in the past six months. Everyone involved is well behaved, which makes for a beneficial program, said officer McCarter, who oversees the sewing area.

“They want a good way to spend their time while they’re here,” she said.

Finding applicants isn’t difficult, McCarter said.

“There is always interest in it,” she said.

Though it’s not new to Hiland, the hobby craft program continues to benefit inmates, McCarter said. It’s also something she’s proud to be part of.

“I like being involved in an aspect … on the positive side of things,” McCarter said.

Inmates make a variety of crafts, everything from beading to quilting to knitting to crocheting.

“We each have our own little niche,” LaFleur said.

Inmates are not permitted to keep any of the crafts they make, McCarter said. They must be given away to friends or family, she said, and one item per month has to be donated to Hiland’s Give Back program, which sends items to those in need. Geared toward children, Hiland typically sends clothing like hats or scarves and blankets to communities around the state.

Providing items to those in need is a win-win, McCarter said. The inmates feel good about their contribution and children receive much-needed items.

LaFleur agreed.

“These quilts aren’t sitting here,” she said. “They’re being utilized for something.

“It’s a great thing to do for ourselves and our community,” LaFleur said.

And it’s a skill LaFleur said she would have never learned had it not been for the hobby craft program.

“It’s definitely something I don’t think I would have picked up unless I came here.”

 

Most of the materials used by inmates in Hiland Mountain Correctional Center’s hobby craft program are donated. Those interested in making a donation can call 696-9199.

 

Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or mike.nesper@alaskastar.com.

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