DRAPER — I arrived nervously at the Utah State Prison a week ago to meet with inmates who participate in the Wasatch Chapel Crochet Program.

Those involved in the prison’s program crochet a variety of things — like hats, blankets, scarves and baby booties — to give to organizations that serve the community. The groups that benefit from the hand-made items include homeless shelters, refugee centers, local hospitals, domestic violence shelters and many more, said Brooke Adams, spokeswoman for the department of corrections.

I’ve been to the prison during my career for other stories, and I admit, I get apprehensive. After all, the inmates are not serving time for speeding tickets. This day was no different for me as I felt uneasiness grow while I walked with Adams, my co-worker Ben Zack and a prison guard toward the chapel in the Wasatch Facility, where inmates meet to crochet every day except Sunday. 

The moment I entered, I felt steadier as I watched men crocheting blankets. I connected with them as we sat on the benches talking about their love of crocheting and being able to help others.

When I returned to my office I learned that the majority of the 10 men I met are convicted of horrific crimes, including child sex abuse and capital murder, and some will probably never be released, according to online court records.

Their past was not the topic that day, but the prison’s crochet program. It was started in 2005 at the Wasatch Facility, Adams said. Similar programs are at other Utah correctional facilities, including the Timpanogos Women’s Correctional Facility and the Central Utah Correctional Facility. More than 600 inmates have participated at some level in the program since 2011, when officials records began.  

Janet Henrikson, who lives in the Salt Lake area, has been a volunteer supervisor of the program in Draper for the past 18 months. Her duties include collecting donated yarn and and also delivering finished items to organizations. This year she delivered hats and blankets to The Road Home and The Fourth Street Clinic, both in Salt Lake City. The inmates also crocheted baby hats and Christmas stockings for newborn babies, which were donated to a hospital.

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Timothy Hansen works on a sailboat blanket he is crocheting at the Utah State Prison in Draper on Friday, Dec. 22, 2015. Many of the blankets, hats and scarves are donated to children's hospitals and maternity wards.

Inmates volunteer to teach the craft, and patterns are also created by the inmates since they don’t have access to computers, Henrickson said. They are only allowed to use plastic white hooks, which they have to check out and check in each time they use them. 

Danny P. Pitcher, 62, has been at the prison for the past 17 years. The hook blurred as he crocheted a row of shell stitches for a Philadelphia Eagles-inspired blanket. He designed the pattern, and it wasn’t his first. He began crocheting 15 years ago.

“I just love it,” Pitcher said, who has designed and crocheted countless graph blankets with pictures, including sports teams and LDS temples.

Lee Ray Wood, 49, was crocheting a pink baby blanket and has been at the prison for 14 years.

“I like making baby blankets. I have a bunch of grandkids, and it brings me comfort,” Wood said. 

A surge of envy washed over me when I saw Timothy E. Hansen’s project. Half down, the blanket depicted a boat floating on water above two fish that looked like Disney’s Nemo. 

“I enjoy it because it gives me the chance to give back to the community,” the 57-year-old man who has been there for 10 years said. “I spent my previous lifetime taking away from it.” 

You can reach reporter Loretta Park at lpark@standard.net or at 801-625-4252. Follow her on Twitter at @LorettaParkSE or like her on Facebook.

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