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:
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.
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.
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.