The Gift of Checkers

My husband and I live in a place that is referred to as a prison town. What that means is that the Montana State Prison (MSP) is located here and many towns people work there. We also have prison families who move here to be closer to there loved ones who are incarcerated. I never though of what that would mean for the quality of the society here until we had already signed on the dotted line and handed over a check to cover half our mortgage. There is a mentality that accompanies towns like ours that I was blissfully naive to when we relocated here.

Our biggest issue in this local is drugs. Our little town has one of the highest drug abuse rates in all of Montana and crime almost always accompanies drug abuse. To top to off Montana is one of the states fighting hard to have the legal use of marijuana. So we have many people who are perfectly capable of working, but they don’t because the suffer from back aches and need medical marijuana. Or they stubbed their big toe and they need their medical marijuana. Statistically speaking, many of these people are living off the welfare system, or they filed for social security and, only heaven knows how, they qualified. The bottom line is that they can work, but they choose not too.

Because of this and some other factors, we have both a police department and a sheriffs office that are both fully staffed and our population is only about 3000 people. To the best of my knowledge this also includes the inmates at MSP, but I could be wrong.

A few years back, when I was hired on at our local library, I became aware of the fact that MSP has something like 5 libraries. Often we would do what is called Inter-library loans with them and I was pleased to see that they have a great selection of books. I also learned that their inmates are busy most of the day with various activities. Sadly, in stark contrast, our jail had a few old tattered paper backs and the prisoners were playing checkers with rolled up pieces of toilette paper.

As a resident of this town, I was appalled that there was no rehabilitation going on at the jail. These men and women would eventually be released and, unless they learned new behaviors quickly, they would end up back on the streets doing exactly what they did in the first place to get incarcerated. So I started collecting good quality fiction and non-fiction paperback books out of the free bin at work. I talked to everyone who would listen and begged for books and games. I knew this community had a small window of opportunity to help make a difference in someone else life and I thought this opportunity should be seized. Sadly only one other person helped.

So I set to work. With a very limited budget I started making a few checker boards to go along with the books, coloring books and colored pencils that I was donating. Here is what I did:

Water Fowl Checker board

Plaid Checker board

Football Checker Board

All the checker pieces were made with 2″ x 2″ squares of fabric that were sewn together and stuffed with left over polyester stuffing the I had from another project.

Fish Checker board

Each of these boards was made using scrap fabric from my shoe boxes and the borders were made with fat quarter fabric that was on the reduced rack of a local quilt store. Each fat quarter costs me $1.25: I purchased 4 for the whopping price of $5.00.

Rolled up checker boards

Each of the boards roll up and tie with a casing “string” that is much too short to do anything with except tie up the board when it is not in use.

This was about a year and a half ago, and last month while I was out and about, I met someone who thanked me once again for the books and checker boards. She said the prisoners use the checker boards every day and they take very good care of them. She also said that the prisoners and staff are grateful for them. Wow, that made my heart smile.

I don’t know if books and checker boards can actually change a person life, perhaps they can. What I do know is that in order for change to occur, someone has to take the first step. My checkers might not make a difference in the life of an prisoner once they get released, but perhaps they might inspire someone else to do a random act of kindness that would change the life of another. One seed can make thousands of seed if the conditions are right.

Happy creating~

8 thoughts on “The Gift of Checkers

  1. Thanks for your efforts. My guild does a lot of projects to help the local community. We have 3 hospitals here, including the VA. We also have the state’s medical intake facility for prisoners. (All new prisoners go thru there, and those in medical custody also stay there.) As far as I know, we have not served that site. I love the idea of checkerboards for prisoners. Something to check on, no pun intended…

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  2. What a wonderful idea. My aunt used to tell us kids that an idle mind and idle hands were the devil’s playground and after having children of my own I agree. We don’t have a prison in our immediate area but we do have a county facility that houses inmates for extended time. The checkerboards would work great for them. You have inspired at least one person (ME) to do something like that. Thanks for the post.

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    • If you make something like this Peggy, it needs to be made from materials that they can not use in any way as a weapon. Also, it is always best to talk to a person in charge to find out other important details before you put in the work.

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  3. we do not have a prison in our immediate area but I totally agree with you – rehabilitation must be done or going back to old ways most likely takes about 80% of the people released.

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  4. What a lovely story! I truly believe like you, that even little steps can make a big difference. It’s so good to hear of people looking at this with positive eyes and a view to an opportunity to be taken, rather than a negative of some sort.

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  5. I believe that any acts of kindness can definitely make a difference. We have a prison in my town and when I moved last, I had a lot of quilt and craft supplies I wanted to donate, but didn’t know who would want them. Someone suggested the prison. I brought in two bags full of fabric, batting, etc. The guard who took them said the prisoners make toys and would be very happy to see what was in the bags.

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  6. Thanks for sharing this lovely story, Bella! I too, grew up in a prison town, and your are so right about how it can have a hardening effect on people’s hearts. One small thing can make a huge difference in someone’s life.

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