‘Inmate elves’ spread Christmas cheer from inside jail

KANAB – The words “inmate” and “jail” typically invoke images of toughened individuals, violence and a harsh environment where criminals are sent to pay for their crimes. But at the Kane County Jail in Kanab, a much more positive and harmonious scene can be found.

The Kane County Jail "inmate elves" display blankets they crocheted for charity, Kanab, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Kane County Jail, St. George News
The Kane County Jail “inmate elves” display blankets they crocheted for charity, Kanab, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Kane County Jail, St. George News

Kane County inmates are busily engaged in addiction recovery programs as well as constructive activities like playing musical instruments, drawing and painting, learning how to create a resume, doing genealogy indexing and learning to crochet blankets and other items to be donated to charity. That’s right … crochet.

“In our program, we really put emphasis on … doing things that are outside of yourself,” Kane County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ted Barnard said, “things that are kind of bigger than yourself, and giving back to others and using your time and talents to help other individuals out.”

This holiday season, a group of men at the jail known as the “inmate elves” have been busily crocheting blankets, toys, Christmas stockings and more to benefit individuals in need in Kane County.

See the inmates in action in the video top of this report.

When the items were completed and ready to be delivered to their recipients, the inmates also got to wrap the gifts — something some of them had never done before and others hadn’t been able to do for many years.

“We just take that for granted, but I guess it kind of blew them away to be able to do that,” Kane County Sheriff’s Lt. Marson Keller said.

During this Christmas season, the “inmate elves” of Kane County Jail have crocheted and donated:

  • 36 hats.
  • 29 blankets.
  • 24 Christmas stockings.
  • 16 scarves.
  • 15 stuffed animals.
  • 12 hot pads.
  • Five pillows.
  • Four sets of baby booties.
  • Four “walker skirts” for elderly people to use on their walkers.
  • Two sweaters.
  • Two purses.

All of these items were donated to places like BeeHive Homes, to be given to elderly residents there, and the Kane County Hospital Thrift Store. The BeeHive Homes residents had the option of either keeping their gifts or giving them to loved ones, which allowed some of the homebound individuals to give gifts to grandchildren and others when they otherwise couldn’t have.

It gives me chills to go up there and talk to them, because they are just so grateful anytime that we bring anything in to them,” Barnard said. “They’re so appreciative. They just absolutely love anything that we take up there to them.”

Carl Dickson, an inmate from Ogden, said he has been in other correctional facilities where the inmates made items for charity, but they didn’t get to know where the items went or whom they benefited.

“They don’t get involved like they do here,” Dickson said. “In Kane County Jail … the staff, they get more into it. They talk to you, they converse with you. They actually care, you know, and not like as you’re a number but as you’re a person, and I think that’s really cool about this jail.”

“I, myself, have been in a few other programs,” Dickson went on to say, “but this one’s teaching me a lot more than I think I’ve ever been in before, and it is (because of) this service stuff.”

Ray Simpson, an inmate from Richfield, said there is a different feeling at Kane County Jail, and through the charity work and various programs at the jail he is learning to become his true self.

“There’s a magic here,” he said. “They teach you to find the essence of your being … and finding out who you are and finding out what the things to create value are. And value is reaching out and helping other people, because that’s who we really are: people and value. And we need meaning in our life, and that’s how we find it.”

In addition to spreading Christmas cheer with their creations, some of the inmates have also used their crocheting skills outside of jail. After serving a previous sentence and being released, Dickson said, he made crocheted items, sold them online and used the money to pay his fines and restitution.

“People love this stuff,” he said. “They go crazy over it, especially when it’s handmade.”

Inmates work on their crochet projects at Kane County Jail, Dec. 23, 2016 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News
Inmates work on their crochet projects at Kane County Jail, Dec. 23, 2016 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News

Jarred Redmond, an inmate from Pleasant Grove, said he hopes to teach his daughters to crochet when he goes home.

“(This program has) impacted me many ways,” he said, “because I have a wife and four girls, and, you know, in the past I’ve been very selfish. I’ve used drugs. I was putting them (my family) on the back burner, and now I can finally see what I was missing and try to give a little bit back to the community and maybe, in the future, help my wife and kids.”

Barnard said the recidivism rate at Kane County Jail is very low compared to other facilities, and he believes that is due to the programs implemented within the jail to help the inmates make positive changes in their lives, like the crochet service program. He added that he wishes more correctional facilities would implement similar programs to help inmates make lasting changes in their lives.

“It’s critical to me that people understand that the inmates that we incarcerate here in Kane County, they’re going back out into your communities, in my community and our families’ communities,” Barnard said. “And so, why would we not invest the time right now, while they’re here, to rehabilitate them so they can be functioning members of society in our communities when they do get back out there and, hopefully, not come back in? So, it’s worth the investment right now to see to it that they get out and don’t come back.”

Barnard added that he knows not every criminal can be rehabilitated and that it’s necessary for some higher-level offenders to be locked away. But, for others, these kinds of self-improvement and service programs can change their lives for the better.

“They’re still human beings,” he said. “They’re good men that made bad choices.”

The crochet program has been operating for five years at Kane County Jail and is completely supported by donations, Barnard said. Almost all of the yarn and other materials used by the inmates is donated by local church members from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Kane County area.

The jail is constantly seeking donations for the program, and anyone wishing to contribute yarn and other supplies should contact the jail at 435-644-2349.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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  • ladybugavenger December 24, 2016 at 3:31 pm

    That is fantastic!

  • .... December 24, 2016 at 9:01 pm

    This is absolutely fantastic news and I’m sure this will result in a positive reaction from the community and I would like to thank all those involved in making this possible. what a wonderful way to give back to the community. Praise the Lord !

  • Common Sense December 25, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    Wow! This is really neat. I can crochet and sew and stuff but I have never had time to complete a project. I am wierdly finding myself a little bit jealous that they have the opportunity to complete a whole blanket. Where do they find the time? No, seriously. I think this is a neat way for them to give back.

  • anybody home December 31, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    Just saw this one…what a great story. And some very nice work in the pictures…Crochet work is relaxing and makes the time go faster – maybe that’s part of the draw. But it takes a generous spirit to choose to do this instead of tattooing yourself or some other self-involved activity. Looks like these fellows might have a better chance when they’re out again. I wish them well.

  • izzymuse January 4, 2017 at 11:21 am

    Great to see this happening. Love this news story.

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