Prisoners make Christmas gifts for communities

Saturday, December 22, 2001

PACIFIC, Mo. -- A prison is an unusual spot to find a Santa's workshop, a room where the walls are lined with hand-stitched quilts, the tables loaded with colorful stuffed animals and inmate-recorded books on tape for children.

Prisoners at Missouri Eastern Correctional Center, all men, have spent months making holiday gifts by hand. On Friday, they donated those items to charitable organizations under a program called Restorative Justice.

The program emphasizes accountability by inmates and sets up ways they can assist their communities.

At this medium-to-high security jail about 30 miles outside of St. Louis, inmates have stitched together quilts, laundry bags and stuffed animals. Because the men couldn't have scissors, volunteers help them by cutting out fabric shapes in advance.

The inmates filled cosmetic bags with donated toiletry items and created book-on-tape libraries by reading aloud children's books.

Roger Nolan, 54, and Christopher Prosser, 36, both behind bars for murder, are among those who have become most active with the program.

Nolan, who helps coordinate the quilting effort, said time and again he's seen inmates approach the sewing room's door, peek inside and walk away.

"They'll call us ladies and stuff like that," he said. Then many give it a try and find the work satisfying.

"They don't have to put on a phony front," he said. "They don't have to be a tough guy."

"So now we've got a room full of tough guys quilting," Prosser said. He believes most inmates want to do something to show they're sorry.

And, he said, doing something charitable gives inmates a boost, too. "It's a huge element in uplifting someone's integrity and their self-worth."

The Restorative Justice program is in prisons throughout Missouri. At Eastern, inmates have logged 16,000 hours making their donations. Several who completed mandatory hours have continued beyond the required time, officials said.

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