A project that teaches incarcerated people to crochet blankets for donation to local animal shelters is inspiring participants and keeping needy animals warm through the winter.
“Crochet is a great meditative practice. It also creates a physical product that will give some comfort to a shelter animal,” said participant Steven Joyner.
The project is part of an ongoing craft class at San Quentin’s Enhanced Outpatient Program at the H-Unit, led by mental health clinician Dr. Elizabeth Bloom. The idea for the crocheting project came to her from an article in CDCR Today about a similar program at Pelican Bay State Prison.
Dr. Bloom said she thought, “If Pelican Bay can crochet, then we can too.”
She added that it took a while to get the crochet hooks approved for the supervised class in the activity room, but a safe solution was found by using plastic hooks. The class does other crafts too, including plastic “stained glass” mandalas.
When class is in session, Dr. Bloom said, “You can hear a pin drop because the guys are so absorbed in their work.”
The proposed project gained momentum after the devastating wildfires in Australia, when international media attention highlighted volunteers crocheting mittens for injured koalas, pouches for orphaned joeys, and nests for lost fledglings.
Dr. Bloom explained that organizations such as Relief Crafters of America and Comfort for Critters provided examples for them to follow for the shelter-animal blankets. She said the Marin Humane Society is receiving the class’s donated blankets.
Crocheted blankets provide a cozy bed year-round for homeless pets while they are waiting to be adopted, according to the Comfort for Critters website. When animals are undergoing the stressful transition to a shelter, being moved from cage to cage, or finally going to a new home, Comfort for Critters says the familiar smells and softness of their blankets can “make all the difference.”
“I know how grim animal shelters can be …. All too often, cats and dogs only have newspaper to lie on,” said Hazel, a Comfort for Critters volunteer. “Blankets make such a positive difference in their lives. And when they’re happy, they get noticed more, and they get adopted.”
Dr. Bloom says that while crocheting is straightforward, it takes patience and perseverance to learn, which improves frustration tolerance. She said such life skills will benefit participants during and after their time in prison. She also said crocheting requires both hemispheres of the brain to work together, which benefits brain health and development.
Patience and perseverance were needed to get through all the interruptions and hardships the class encountered during the COVID pandemic, but to the joy of all involved, the program is now up and running again.
Project participant Carl Jones said he had never crocheted before, but was happy to learn something new. Dr. Bloom said Jones had a knack for it and was a quick study.
Jones proudly displayed his miniature blanket, saying it would be perfect for a Chihuahua. He said that it made him feel good to think about a little dog staying warm because of his blanket. Jones thanked Dr. Bloom and prison staff for doing “something outside of the box.”
In comparison to Jones’ blanket, Steve Joyner made an enormous one fit for a Great Dane, or perhaps a Chesapeake Bay retriever, a breed he knows well from his childhood.
Joyner said he mistakenly made the first chain stitch along the border too long, but at that point he was committed. He said it took him almost a year to complete the blanket, but he is glad that he did.
“It was something that I looked forward to every week — a chance to learn a new skill,” Jonyer said. He added that he hopes the program continues and wants to keep crocheting after his release.
Dr. Bloom said that at Pelican Bay, program participants have “open access to yarn and crochet hooks so they can craft during their leisure time” in their housing units. She said she would support adding that option for participants at The Q in their dorms, if possible.
Participant Tim Huffman said, “Learning how to crochet, that’s something that’s hard to do. It took a while to get it down, but now I don’t even need help anymore.”
Dr. Bloom said she is “so proud of Mr. Huffman because he wanted to give up but he never did.”