Knitting group for male prisoners

Lynn Zwerling

The first warden Lynn Zwerling approached with her idea recoiled as if she might bite. The second wouldn’t meet with her. The third claimed to love the idea, then fell out of touch. Outrageous, said the fourth.

The fifth, Margaret Chippendale, at a minimum-security men’s prison outside Baltimore, didn’t have much hope for Ms. Zwerling’s plan either.

“She brought the program to me and told me: ‘Your inmates will get hooked. It will relax them, empower them,’ ” remembers Ms. Chippendale, a 40-year veteran of Maryland’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. “And my gut reaction is: ‘Lynn, I’m always looking for ways to do that, but I’m not sure I’m going to get a bunch of big, macho guys to sit around a table and knit.’ ”

On a recent Thursday night, 13 inmate members of the Knitting Behind Bars program at Jessup Pre-Release Unit (JPRU) in Jessup, Md., gather at long tables in a white and gray cinder-block room. The men are a cross section of the prison population: old and young, black and white.

Tyrell Butler, a young inmate with a gold tooth and tattoos ringing both arms, is joining the group for the first time. He watches intently as Zwerling gives him a five-minute knitting lesson.

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