LEBANON, Ohio (AP) — Robert Mack killed a Mount Airy man in a shootout in 2007.
Jonathan Seals shot his mother’s boyfriend to death in Springfield.
Justin Stephan used a knife and a brick in a thrill killing in Tuscarawas County.
The hands of these men have committed the unthinkable.
Now, they are armed with a flexible plastic crochet hook instead of tools of violence. Now, these tainted hands are doing good.
“I do it for the love,” said Mack, who is 28 and has one year left on a five-year prison sentence for voluntary manslaughter.
Behind fences lined with razor wire at Lebanon Correctional Institution in Warren County, these three inmates are among 15 who spend their down time looping and twisting strands of yarn — much of it donated — into delicate baby booties, mittens, hats, afghans and lap blankets.
These are tough guys in a prison designed for maximum-security inmates. They are members of “Real Men Crochet.”
The program was unique to LCI but has since spread to one other prison. In it, inmates crochet items that are donated to the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Dayton, to women’s and homeless shelters, maternity programs, and to Crayons to Computers free store for teachers in Cincinnati.
“Real Men Crochet” started in 2008 and gained popularity among inmates that are eligible for extra privileges, said Jan Vurginac, who coordinates the program.
“Time goes by quick and they enjoy doing it for the children. It keeps them busy. Idle time is a big problem,” she said.
None of them had ever picked up a crochet hook before, nor would they think twice about doing it on the outside.
“Never,” said Seals.
The LCI inmates are an important part of the “Keep Our Kids Warm” program at Crayons to Computers, said Susan Van Amerongen, who coordinates Crayons to Computers prison programs. The LCI inmates provided 300 handmade mittens, hats and scarves this year to school kids who needed them.
And there was a memorable afghan that made an autistic student’s life a little easier in class, said Van Amerongen. It was bigger than he was and he carried it around with him in school.
“They really take incredible pride in it,” Van Amerongen said of LCI inmates. “It gives them an opportunity to stay connected to the rest of the community. The chaos that brought them into the prison . at least now they are able to have the opportunity to give back and to be the PTA parent they never were on the outside. The fact that these guys do that is huge.”
More experienced inmates in the program teach the newbies how to crochet. They can try to tackle patterns if they want. But most just wing it.
“That’s all it is — experimentation,” said Seals.
Stephan, who is in prison for life without the possibility of parole, had just joined the group three days earlier. He’d already finished a child’s neck scarf and was several rows into a white lap blanket for a military veteran.
Mack is crafting a light pastel yarn into a girl’s winter cap.
Seals uses two strands of thinner yarn — red and bright yellow — for a child’s hat.
They usually crochet while they are in their cells at night or after work at the prison.
“It takes up a lot of my time. It gives me something to do to keep myself active knowing that we helping people . to stay out of trouble,” said Mack.
Seals added: “As I started doing it, I don’t pay attention to the time.”
He is eligible for parole in 2044.
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