A correctional institution might be the last place you’d expect to find a group of men knitting intently or running their own Toastmasters chapter. But that’s exactly what some of the inmates in Jessup’s Pre-Release Unit in Howard County, Maryland are doing. We talk to the women behind the innovative programs and the warden who brought them on board.


  • Sheila Rovelstad Fiber artist; and Co-Founder, Knitting Behind Bars
  • Margaret Chippendale Assistant Warden, Maryland Correctional Pre-Release System
  • Karen Storey Facilitator, 'New Genesis' Toastmaster chapter; member, Toastmasters International; President, Interactive Training


  • 12:24:13

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. The Jessup Pre-Release Unit in Howard County, Md., might be the last place you'd expect to find men knitting or engaged in a vibrant Toastmasters chapter. But if you happen to visit on a Thursday night or Saturday morning, you'd find at least a dozen prisoners engrossed in those activities. A two-year-old knitting program had proven so popular, there's a waiting list to get in. And members of the Toastmasters club have earned leadership positions in chapters outside of the facility after their release.

  • 12:24:45

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut the women who lead both programs say they are about much more than speeches and knitting. Welcome, Karen Storey. She is an adviser to the Toastmasters chapter at the Jessup Pre-Release Unit along with her husband, Frank. Karen Storey, thank you joining us.

  • 12:24:59

    MS. KAREN STOREYHey, thank you for having me.

  • 12:25:01

    NNAMDISheila Rovelstad is a co-founder of the Knitting Behind Bars program at the Jessup Pre-Release Unit, which she runs with her friend Lynn Zwerling. Sheila Rovelstad, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:25:12

    MS. SHEILA ROVELSTADThank for having me.

  • 12:25:13

    NNAMDIAnd a shout out to Lynn, who's around, it's my understanding. Margaret Chippendale is the assistant warden of the Maryland Correctional Pre-Release System. She's also a former facility administrator at the Jessup Pre-Release Unit. Margaret Chippendale, thank you for joining us, and I'll start with you.

  • 12:25:28

    MS. MARGARET CHIPPENDALEThank you for having us.

  • 12:25:29

    NNAMDIYou were the facility administrator at the Jessup Pre-Release Unit when both Toastmasters and Knitting Behind Bars got started there. Tell us about the population there and why you brought these programs out.

  • 12:25:41

    CHIPPENDALEAll right. The population is comprised of approximately 596 inmates if we're at full capacity, and these are male inmates, medium and pre-release security, which in term -- layman terms is at the lower end of the classification scale or security scale within corrections. Jessup Pre-Release Unit is a small unit designed to prepare our inmates for re-entry into society and back into the community. And when I learned of Toastmasters, first, I thought, what an excellent idea to allow our individuals public speaking skills as well as leadership development.

  • 12:26:21

    CHIPPENDALEAnd then later, Knitting Behind Bars came to my attention, and I also thought, again, a great program. In the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, we're always looking for programs to enlighten the inmates, not only to allow them things to do while their in the institution to take away idle time, but also something that they're going to give back to the community. And both of these programs allow the inmates to do that.

  • 12:26:47

    NNAMDIOn the one hand, you mentioned taking away idle time. But as an administrator with decades of experience in the correction system, what do you think prisoners get out of these particular programs?

  • 12:26:58

    CHIPPENDALEThese particular programs -- and I'll start with Toastmasters because Toastmasters started at the Jessup Pre-Release Unit in about 2005. It was an opportunity not only for the individuals, the inmates to improve their speaking skills, but it allows them when they're -- to return to the community. It helps them when there are job interviews, helps them to sell themselves. Many of these inmates have gone on to join private chapters in the community and have certainly become positive members of the community by spreading the word regarding Toastmasters.

  • 12:27:33

    CHIPPENDALEIn the Knitting Behind Bars, it's a different kind of atmosphere. Where you walk into a Toastmasters assembly or a meeting in the morning and it's a kind of rah-rah-rah, and it's a cheering and so on and so forth, you go into Knitting Behind Bars, it's certainly a more quite atmosphere. The inmates are truly engaged in learning how to knit during conversation, not only with the inmates in the room, but also with Sheila and with Lynn or any other volunteer who might be present, but as an opportunity for them to have some quiet time and to learn a skill and certainly to give back to the community.

  • 12:28:10

    CHIPPENDALEIt's certainly is a form of restorative justice. The inmates -- when the program was originally developed, they were knitting what we refer to as trauma dolls. And we were sending these dolls to local domestic violent shelters. We've since gone on and the inmates now do hats and scarves and socks, and we give them to children in need in Baltimore City schools. So, again, the inmates feel good about themselves because they're giving back to the community.

  • 12:28:38

    NNAMDIWe'd like to hear from you on this topic. Do you knit or belong to a Toastmasters chapter? Call us, 800-433-8850. What do you think about bringing those activities into prison? You can also send email to kojo@wamu.org. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. The number again, 800-433-8850. Sheila Rovelstad, your partner on Knitting Behind Bars, the yin to your yang, if you will, Lynn Zwerling, got the ball rolling on the program. What inspired her and why did you decide to come on board?

  • 12:29:13

    ROVELSTADIt took Lynn five years after she retired. Lynn was a used car salesperson. She was the hard sell person. She had been active all of her life in sales and suddenly found herself in need of a little comfort. Well, she went -- she turned to knitting and found a great deal of comfort in her knitting. And the very first thing she did is found a large group of knitters in Columbia, in Howard County, and we have nearly 400 members.

  • 12:29:45

    ROVELSTADAnd looking at this group, she thought, wow, if I can find this type of happiness with regular women and men who knit normally, what kind of population could I bring this to and how could they benefit from it?

  • 12:30:01

    NNAMDILearning to knit can be tricky, and you've had decades to hone your craft. Does it take the men in your group a while to get the hang of it? And what do they make once they do? We heard a little bit from Margaret Chippendale about some of the stuff they make.

  • 12:30:16

    ROVELSTADWell, Lynn has her favorite five-minute knitting lesson. She swears she can teach anyone to knit within five minutes. So she starts, and a new guy will come in. And she'll say, you just come with me, and she takes one or two or however many new people we have. And she takes them over into a corner of the room. And in five minutes, they're at least making a stitch.

  • 12:30:37

    NNAMDIFive minutes?

  • 12:30:38

    ROVELSTADFive minutes.

  • 12:30:39

    NNAMDIOur producer Tayla Burney knits. It took her five years to learn.

  • 12:30:43

    ROVELSTADWell, what we found is that you can't have a dictatorial teacher.

  • 12:30:50

    NNAMDII see.

  • 12:30:52

    ROVELSTADAfter all, our program isn't really about knitting.

  • 12:30:56

    NNAMDIWell, Tayla taught herself, so she did have a dictatorial teacher.

  • 12:31:01

    NNAMDISheila, were you at all nervous about going into a prison to teach a bunch of guys how to knit?

  • 12:31:06

    ROVELSTADI have to say that I didn't know enough to be afraid.

  • 12:31:09


  • 12:31:12

    ROVELSTADAnd I have to say in the over two years I've been going, I've only been uncomfortable one time.

  • 12:31:18

    NNAMDIVery good. Karen, Sheila may not have been nervous at first, but you were.

  • 12:31:22

    STOREYOh, yes.

  • 12:31:23

    NNAMDIWhat made you put that anxiety aside and get involved?

  • 12:31:27

    STOREYWell, Mrs. Chippendale is very persuasive, and we were nervous. My husband and I, when we first volunteered, we were said -- we were told, don't use your real names and, you know, be really suspicious, and it has been just the opposite experience for us. The men have been really generous and very open to us.

  • 12:31:45

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. You can also join the conversation by going to our website, kojoshow.org. Are you of the opinion that we need more programs like these in our jails? Why or why not? 800-433-8850. Karen, most people think of public speaking when they think of Toastmasters, but you say it's more about leadership than about anything else. Please explain.

  • 12:32:06

    STOREYYeah. They're actually in the process of rebranding themselves because they are really known as a public speaking organization. But just in the last few years, they've really developed leadership training programs. And, now, they have a whole track dedicated not only just to speaking but a whole track dedicated to leadership. And, now, their motto is, where leaders are made, and their philosophy is, join Toastmasters and you'll learn communication skills and you'll learn leadership skills.

  • 12:32:37

    NNAMDIBefore I go to the telephones, Margaret Chippendale, nervous or not, I imagine there are some safety concerns any time volunteers come into a facility to work with prisoners. Is there any kind of training that volunteers have to get ahead of time?

  • 12:32:50

    CHIPPENDALEWell, our volunteers all have to go through a background security check, so we're doing that behind the scenes. But, yes, our volunteers are...

  • 12:32:57

    NNAMDILucky thing Karen didn't use false name.

  • 12:32:59

    CHIPPENDALEA false name.

  • 12:33:02

    NNAMDIBut go ahead.

  • 12:33:02

    CHIPPENDALEBut, yes, volunteers do need to go through an orientation program. And we sit down, and we tell them what they're allowed to bring into the institution, how they need to handle themselves with the population, how they need to dress, just what they can and cannot. For example, when Knitting Behind Bars came in, obviously, we had to be concerned about knitting needles coming into the institution. So when Lynn and Sheila come in, we count the needles and whatever amount they came with, they'd better go out with. So it is that sort of thing that we have to be concerned about.

  • 12:33:33

    NNAMDIAre there concerns, any at all, when it comes to the safety, both of the inmates or of the instructors, the volunteers?

  • 12:33:39

    CHIPPENDALEYes, there are certainly. We have to take that into consideration. We've not had any issues with these particular programs, and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we are a minimum pre-release facility. The inmates know what's expected of them. If they want to continue to be involved in the program, and, quite frankly, if they want to remain at the Jessup Pre-Release Unit or another minimum pre-release facility, they better pay attention to the rules because we could increase their security levels.

  • 12:34:06

    NNAMDICan you explain to our listeners what exactly is involved in being in a minimum pre-release facility?

  • 12:34:13

    CHIPPENDALEAll right. For many of these individuals, I think the public is under the impression that if you're in a minimum pre-release facility, it perhaps is someone who just arrived in the system and maybe they are there as a nonviolent offender. That's not necessarily the case. While some of our individuals are just that, for many of these individuals, they've been locked up 20, 30, 40 years for a variety of offenses.

  • 12:34:37

    CHIPPENDALEBut because they've worked their way through the system and they've gone to trainings -- they perhaps have gone back to school, received a GED, gone through therapeutic communities, that sort of thing -- within the compliance of the facility, they are reduced to a lower level of classification in the system.

  • 12:34:58

    NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking about two programs at the Jessup Pre-Release facility with Margaret Chippendale. She is the assistant warden of the Maryland Correctional Pre-release System. She is a former facility administrator at the Jessup Pre-Release Unit. Karen Storey is an adviser for the Toastmasters chapter at the Jessup Pre-Release Unit along with her husband Frank.

  • 12:35:18

    NNAMDIAnd Sheila Rovelstad is co-founder of the Knitting Behind Bars program at the Jessup Pre-Release Unit, which she runs with her friend Lynn Zwerling. On now to the telephones. Here is Laurie in Annapolis, Md. Laurie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:35:32

    LAURIEHello, Kojo. Nice to talk to you. Thank you so much for doing this for prisoners behind bars. I think it's just wonderful that you've started a knitting program. There's nothing more completing than this -- to make something for someone and donate it to some. I think it's just wonderful that you did -- done that. Are you planning on doing it at other places?

  • 12:35:51

    ROVELSTADWe found that we can't spread ourselves too thinly. I have a business that I run myself. Lynn has many endeavors that she is in. What we're doing is acting as sounding board for other people who are interested. We've currently been talking to a lady in Talbot County who is starting a program there, and we've started talking to another woman in Carroll County. So what we're trying to do is form a coalition so that we have available information for everyone.

  • 12:36:21

    NNAMDILaurie, thank you very much for...

  • 12:36:21

    LAURIEI'd love to join in.

  • 12:36:23

    NNAMDIOh, you like to join? How can she join in?

  • 12:36:25

    ROVELSTADYou can go -- are you a knitter?

  • 12:36:28

    LAURIEYeah, oh gosh. Yes.

  • 12:36:29

    ROVELSTADYou -- are you on Ravelry?

  • 12:36:33

    LAURIEI teach knitting to elementary school children in Arlington, Va.

  • 12:36:36

    ROVELSTADOK. Are you on Ravelry on the Internet?

  • 12:36:39

    LAURIEI am.

  • 12:36:40

    ROVELSTADOK. If you go to Knitting Behind Bars, there is a group, and Lynn and I ran that. And that's where we're doing all the information.

  • 12:36:49

    NNAMDIRavelry has been described to me as a kind of Facebook for knitters.

  • 12:36:52


  • 12:36:53

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Laurie. We move on to John in Rockville, Md. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:37:01

    JOHNYes. I just wanted to compliment you on starting this program. I've heard of it being in other prisons in the country before and with great success. And I just wanted to know how it's been working out now, how long they've being doing it for the Toastmasters club at the prison.

  • 12:37:18


  • 12:37:19

    STOREYWell, we started five years ago under Mrs. Chippendale's advisory. She brought us in, and we started as a Gavel Club. Toastmasters International has a program built for prison systems, and we operate under that system. And it's a great experience. And if you're familiar with Toastmasters, one of the things our prisoners or members do first is an icebreaker. And if you've ever heard some of our icebreakers, they are mind-blowing. They are exciting speeches.

  • 12:37:48

    NNAMDIJohn, tell us how familiar you are with Toastmasters.

  • 12:37:51

    JOHNWell, I've been doing Toastmasters myself for the past 16 years, and I'm very familiar with the benefits of it. I have not actually spoken to anyone to find out how much it's benefited a prison population, especially when they leave prison. I want to know if it facilitate in getting a job because it's what employers look for. It's the number one thing people look for is communication...

  • 12:38:15


  • 12:38:15

    JOHN...and these people have difficult enough job to find a job.

  • 12:38:18


  • 12:38:18

    NNAMDII was going to ask that later. Stop stealing my question, John. Here's Karen.

  • 12:38:20

    STOREYYeah. John, I would tell you we've had tremendous results with our members that have left. Some of them, and if you're familiar with Toastmasters, the leadership positions outside the club or the area governor and the division governor, district governor, we've actually had our members leave New Genesis -- that's the name of our club -- and become area governors and be assistant division governors.

  • 12:38:45

    STOREYSo not only has the -- have they gone on to do great things and interviews and all kind of wonderful things, the Toastmaster community really embraces them. And when they come out and say, this is the club I came from, people help them. You know the community of Toastmasters, and they're helpful.

  • 12:39:03

    NNAMDIJohn, thank you very much for your call.

  • 12:39:05

    JOHNThank you.

  • 12:39:06

    NNAMDIYou, too, can call us at 800-433-8850, or send email to kojo@wamu.org. If you have volunteered or worked in a jail or prison or served in one, we'd like to know what you think of programs like these, the Toastmasters program, the knitting program. 800-433-8850. Margaret Chippendale, Lynn tried to get a lot of prisons to let her start knitting programs, and you were the only one to go for it. Did you think in advance that the guys at your facility would jump at the chance to learn to knit?

  • 12:39:37

    CHIPPENDALENo, I did not.

  • 12:39:39

    CHIPPENDALELynn and I shared many conversations regarding this because my original position was, Lynn, I'll allow you to give it a shot, but I'm not sure you're going to have any males to show up to knit. I really was skeptical on the beginning, but I said, let's give it a shot. You know, the worst we can do is no one shows. I will have to say, though, we put notice out in the institution, in our housing units. I spoke to some inmates, quite frankly, the Toastmasters chapter.

  • 12:40:06

    CHIPPENDALEI really went to Toastmasters and said, guys, you're very instrumental in getting things done in the institution. I'm inviting you to the first knitting behind bars. Go back and speak to your dorm buddies and bring somebody along. And, quite frankly, the first night I was amazed, the numbers of individuals that we've had and to watch the program grow.

  • 12:40:26

    NNAMDIThe first surprise, as you pointed out, was that the program took off. The second is surely the interest and the tension that this program is receiving since it was featured in The Baltimore Sun last fall. It's my understanding you've been feeling calls from as far away as Germany, asking for advice on how to start a similar program.

  • 12:40:44

    CHIPPENDALEYes. I've been in conversation with Germany and most recently with Canada. I've been in conversation with a knitter in Canada, who wants to be the volunteer for the program but also with the Canada Department of Corrections in how to proceed, and they're moving forward. So it is absolutely amazing the number of individuals that want to move forward with this program.

  • 12:41:08

    NNAMDIKaren Storey, I'm fascinated by the fact that when she thought of candidates for the knitting crash, you came to the members of the Toastmasters group. How was it received there?

  • 12:41:18

    STOREYWell, my group -- I could brag a little bit here. We get the cream of the crop in my group, and we have a great president, Joshua, who leads us. And I would think that if you were going to look for the people to really help you kick off anything new, come to my group because we have really a good solid group of not only good communicators but we mentioned...

  • 12:41:39


  • 12:41:40

    STOREYBudding leaders, yeah.

  • 12:41:42

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have already called, stay on the line. We still have a couple of lines open. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. Are you surprised to learn that men would be so eager to learn to knit? 800-433-8850 or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:44:04

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about Knitting Behind Bars or being a member of a Toastmasters group behind bars. We're talking with Margaret Chippendale, assistant warden of the Maryland Correctional Pre-Release System. She's also a former facility administrator at the Jessup Pre-Release Unit. Karen Storey is an adviser for the Toastmasters chapter at the Jessup Pre-release Unit along with her husband Frank.

  • 12:44:25

    NNAMDIAnd Sheila Rovelstad is co-founder of the Knitting Behind Bars program at the Jessup Pre-Release Unit. She runs it with her friend Lynn Zwerling. Your calls, 800-7433-8850. Let's start with Joan in Takoma Park, Md. Joan, your turn.

  • 12:44:41

    JOANOh, thank you so very much for taking my call. I happen to be a quilter. And I was wondering whether this program is intended primarily for self-esteem purposes, if you will, or is it intended to, in fact, provide these men with any kind of a skill that they could use on the outside? I'm talking, of course, about the quilt -- about the knitting. It seems -- quilting -- I have to make a pitch for quilting. It really has the possibilities of, you know, generating income for individuals.

  • 12:45:13

    ROVELSTADJoan, I think you get it. It's for the self-esteem. We don't know how many of our guys are going to go and continue to knit on the outside. We are now able to provide them with instruments to be able to continue, but our main goal is to help them make the transition.

  • 12:45:35

    JOANOK. What about donations, donations of yarn and so forth? Is that something that would be welcomed?

  • 12:45:41

    ROVELSTADUnfortunately, we have a very hard time storing yarn, so we have been declining yarn. However, we are forming a -- as I mentioned before, we are forming a coalition, and there are people who do need the yarn. On our site on Ravelry or on our blog, knittingbehindbars.blogspot.com, there is information there that you can -- if you have something that you want to donate, you can go there and find a means to do that.

  • 12:46:13

    JOANOK. Thank you so much.

  • 12:46:14

    NNAMDIJoan, thank you very much for your call. Karen, each Toastmaster in your group starts off by giving, you mentioned it earlier, an icebreaker speech. Is there a set topic?

  • 12:46:24

    STOREYNo. The icebreaker speech is an introduction of you to the group. And as you can imagine, in our group, we tell them to give us as much information as they want or limit the information. So you get a very different icebreaker than you would in a -- outside of the Gavel Club. And then Toastmasters -- actually, our manuals are designed to be skill-developed, so our second speech would be to organize and have an opening body conclusion. We have a project that lends itself to using body language.

  • 12:47:00

    STOREYWe have one that works just on vocal variety. So each of our -- each of the manual, the manuals they work from, each project doesn't tell them what to speak about but gives them a purpose or an objective to satisfy.

  • 12:47:15

    NNAMDIHere is Mark in Falls Church, Va. Mark, go ahead, please.

  • 12:47:21

    MARKYes. I was involved with Toastmasters in prison back in the early '90s, and I'd just like to comment that it really gives these people something that they connect to in the outside community once they are released that, you know, they're going to (unintelligible) lives. They may have family members they can be with and so on, but, you know, finding a job, a lot of changes going on.

  • 12:47:47

    MARKBut this continuity of having Toastmasters when they get outside of prison is something they can continue to participate in and is very much like what they've been doing while they were in prison. That gives them that continuity, and it's a good way to get themselves reintegrated into the society. In addition to helping them find jobs and such by giving them the skills to have good interviews, it's a good way for them to get reintegrated into society.

  • 12:48:13

    NNAMDIMargaret Chippendale, care to comment on that?

  • 12:48:15

    CHIPPENDALEAbsolutely. I consider it to be a safety net almost. The -- those individuals that are engaged in Toastmasters, they know, when they walk out of the door of the Jessup Pre-Release Unit, that Frank and Karen are going to put them in touch with a local chapter in the community.

  • 12:48:30

    CHIPPENDALESo not only is it an opportunity to network and to be involved in the community, but it absolutely is a safety net because those individuals in Toastmasters are so dedicated to making sure that New Genesis survives in the institution, that they'd do anything in their power to help these individuals. We've had opportunities where we -- they've been able to send inmates on job interviews for us, and it's a good source of referral.

  • 12:48:57

    NNAMDIGot an email question from Bonnie in Germantown, Md., Sheila. Bonnie says, "I fully support both of these programs. Being a dedicated member of Toastmasters, I know of its immense value. For Knitting Behind Bars, do you take donations of needles and yarn?"

  • 12:49:12

    ROVELSTADThe yarn we do not. The needles, we would be glad to accept.

  • 12:49:15

    NNAMDIHow can Bonnie make such a donation?

  • 12:49:18

    ROVELSTADIf she goes and contacts us on our Web -- on our blog.

  • 12:49:25

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. You know, Sheila, that these men have all done something that led to their incarceration. But it's my understanding you never ask why they're in jail. How come?

  • 12:49:39

    ROVELSTADThat's not the reason we're there. We're there to help them make a transition back into society. We tell them point-blank, we know that you're here for a reason. We don't care what that is. We want to know you from this point forward, and let's move on with our lives.

  • 12:49:59

    NNAMDIOn to Jim in Alexandria, Va. Jim, your turn. Hi, Jim. Are you there? Jim.

  • 12:50:07


  • 12:50:07

    NNAMDIGo right ahead, please.

  • 12:50:09


  • 12:50:11

    NNAMDIYes, Jim. You are on the air. Go ahead.

  • 12:50:13

    JIMI'm a -- I am a bridge player. And the Northern Virginia Bridge Association and Washington Bridge League have a program to put on a bridge game for the patients of St. Elizabeth's Hospital once a month. St. Elizabeth's is the District hospital for the criminally insane. It provides some therapy for the patients, and they really appreciate it. And it teaches them to accept loss, instead of accepting a win, in a gracious manner, and it's a very worthwhile program. I think it has a similar benefit...

  • 12:50:46

    NNAMDIThe playing of bridge. Any playing of bridge programs at all, Margaret Chippendale?

  • 12:50:51

    CHIPPENDALEI'm certainly unaware of anybody playing bridge in an institution. Not that I don't think it would be a good idea. I'm sure it would be very well supported. We do have other card games going on. We -- you know, our inmates tend to play canasta, pinochle, a lot of poker. But I'm sure there are individuals that would be interested in learning to play bridge if they don't already know how. So if there is anyone out there that's interested in talking to us about bringing a similar program into the institutions, we're ready to listen.

  • 12:51:22

    NNAMDIJim, thank you very much for your call. On to Anne in Washington, D.C. Anne, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:51:28

    ANNEHi. I used to work with juvenile offenders in Ohio when I was in school, and then I also worked with some -- those were girls. And then I did some volunteer work with adult offenders who were, you know, trying to be -- have a -- be reintroduced to being around women properly and so on. So anyway, my question is this: Having worked so much with the juveniles, is whether you've used the knitting or the Toastmasters with juvenile offenders, whether it's appropriate for that age at all or not.

  • 12:52:07

    NNAMDIWhat do you think? I'd like to go around the table on that, Sheila.

  • 12:52:10

    ROVELSTADI don't think there would be a problem with that. I think it's -- it could benefit whoever you wanted to use it with.

  • 12:52:16


  • 12:52:16

    CHIPPENDALEI think it would work for both. And I -- fortunately, I have had the opportunity to work with juvenile offenders. At one time, I was the manager of Child Advocacy for the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, and my job at that time was to go into a female juvenile facility. And I did take, you know, some programs in there, but certainly something like knitting and Toastmasters would be extremely beneficial to those young people.

  • 12:52:44


  • 12:52:45

    STOREYWell, Toastmasters has it covered. We have a program called Youth Leadership, and it's designed to be a mini program for people under the age of 18, and we have had it successfully in juvenile facilities.

  • 12:52:57

    NNAMDIAnne, thank you very much for your call.

  • 12:52:59

    ANNEWell, thank you.

  • 12:53:00

    NNAMDIWe got an email from Anita, who's sharing this question from her 17-year-old: "How is it that felons are permitted to have knitting needles in prison?" On these potentially deadly weapons, you mentioned earlier, Margaret, that the -- you count the needles that come in, and you count the needles that go out. But knitting needles are not very sharp-pointed needles, are they?

  • 12:53:22

    CHIPPENDALENo, they are not. And, actually, when Lynn first came to me about the program, we did discuss the issue of the knitting needles, and the fact that I would have to count them and collect them at the end of each meeting. But she did show me a specific type of needle, and there really wasn't a concern on my part, other than to know that they came in and they went back out and they were appropriately counted. Sheila may be able to talk more about those particular needles.

  • 12:53:50

    ROVELSTADWe use mainly -- in using -- in knitting hats, we're knitting in the round. We're using 16-inch circular needles, except for the very end, which we do use double-point needles. Most of the needles we use are wood.

  • 12:54:05

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. Are you surprised to learn that men would be so eager to knit? Are you of the opinion that we need more programs like this in our jails? Why or why not? 800-433-8850. Here now is Christina in Springfield, Md. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:54:26

    CHRISTINAHi, Kojo. I am an avid knitter, and knitting has a meditative quality. And there is another program that I saw -- I think it was featured on "Oprah" -- about meditating in prisons and how that has calmed the prisoners. My question is, the prisoners who are knitting in this program, has there been behavior change in them?

  • 12:54:44

    NNAMDIWhat have you noticed, Margaret Chippendale?

  • 12:54:47

    CHIPPENDALEWell, certainly there is in both of the programs, the knitting and the Toastmasters. Again, as I indicated earlier, these individuals know that they have something to lose. They enjoy coming to these programs. They want to be involved in the programs. And they understand that if they violate the rules, not only are Sheila and Karen going to ask them to leave, I may find it necessary to move them out of the institution because we find that they're not appropriate to be in that type of institution.

  • 12:55:12

    CHIPPENDALEBut truly it is calming. We noticed that the individuals that are engaged in these types of programs, the violations in the institutions do decrease, and again it's because they want to be successful.

  • 12:55:28

    NNAMDISheila, you -- and thank you for your call, Chris -- Sheila, you hand-dye yarn in vibrant patterns, and you name each of your color combinations, it's my understanding, after a song that they evoke. Tell me about "I Fought the Law, and the Law Won."

  • 12:55:43

    ROVELSTADWell, on my Ravelry group, I -- usually, when I come out with a new color, and I've either named it or I've come up with a color, I always say, OK, I've got these colors. I don't know what to name it, and I run a contest. Well, on this particular yarn, I knew what the name was, but I didn't know what colors to make it. So I put it out there for my followers, and they very nicely gave me a lot of suggestions.

  • 12:56:13

    ROVELSTADAnd usually I'm very dictatorial on that, and I get to make all the decisions. But this one I took into the guys. I said, look, here's all the suggestions, and you get to pick. I don't care. Whatever you choose, I will dye, and that's what we will use as a fundraiser. And so they were amazed. They were totally amazed. First of all, these guys can't even decide what color to knit with when they first come. Now I'm asking them to choose a name for -- or choose a color for a name that I already have.

  • 12:56:39

    NNAMDIEspecially in an environment where you're used to having decisions made for you.

  • 12:56:42

    ROVELSTADExactly. So we had a very vibrant, very happy discussion about it. Some of the guys were not -- were going to make commitments on it. Other ones were very verbal about it. And when we came out with it, I not only asked the people to give me the colors. I asked them why they gave me the colors. And I always ask that. So this one entry was green of the grass and blue of the sky and black for the bars that keep us from it.

  • 12:57:11


  • 12:57:11

    NNAMDIOh, that was excellent.

  • 12:57:13

    ROVELSTADAnd the guys just stopped dead in their tracks, and they said, that's it.

  • 12:57:18

    NNAMDIOh, yeah. That's like a no-brainer. It's so good.

  • 12:57:22

    NNAMDIWe're running out of time very quickly. Margaret, you've moved on from the Jessup facility. You now have oversight over several pre-release units in Maryland. Any plans to start similar programs at other facilities?

  • 12:57:31

    CHIPPENDALEOh, absolutely. We're always looking to expand both of these programs, but we need volunteers to do it. Karen and Sheila can only spread themselves so far. So, again, I'm putting this out. If anybody is interested in these programs or they have other ideas, please contact us. We'll be happy to talk to you.

  • 12:57:49

    NNAMDIMargaret Chippendale is the assistant warden of the Maryland Correctional Pre-Release System. She's also a former facility administrator at the Jessup Pre-Release Unit. Margaret, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:57:58

    CHIPPENDALEThank you for having us.

  • 12:57:58

    NNAMDISheila Rovelstad is co-founder of the Knitting Behind Bars program at Jessup Pre-Release. She runs it with her friend Lynn Zwerling. Sheila, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:58:06

    ROVELSTADThank you.

  • 12:58:07

    NNAMDIAnd Karen Storey is an adviser for the Toastmasters chapter at the Pre-Release Unit, along with her husband Frank. Karen, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:58:14

    STOREYHey, thanks for having us.

  • 12:58:15

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Related Links

Topics + Tags


comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows