Prisoners make gifts, decorations for disadvantaged families

Local News

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — In the spirit of giving, women, some locked up with their baby in prison and others behind bars for a life sentence are giving back to the less fortunate in our community.

NBC4 went to the Ohio governor’s residence to view gifts and art made by those offenders, a program fully-backed by Governor Kasich and his wife Karen.

Christmas decorations displayed on the fireplace mantel, and on and under one Christmas tree were all made by hand in prison.

“We take what some consider trash, which are trash bags, ones my church collects and the women make mats for the homeless,” said Mary Jane carpenter. “These are cut into strips by the offenders at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, the LIFERS, taking a thousand bags and taking approximately a week, they make huge mats for the homeless,” Carpenter said.

She said the mats are both water-resistant and durable.

Other Ohio Reformatory offenders, in a unique program that allows them to care for their small child around the clock while incarcerated, are making art. Small replica homes and hanging displays with their child’s footprint are on the fireplace mantel. Erin Burchwell, one of the volunteer artists working with the women said the mother-child program, is the only one like it in the country.

“It is something for them to look forward to and give them motivation to get out and establish their home and do better and not come back,” said Burchwell. She and a group of volunteer artists work with dozens of female offenders and mothers at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville.

The idea of this kind of art is to start a conversation about the prison program from those touring or at events at the residence.

Volunteers who distribute the gifts said the reaction from disadvantaged families and people living on the street to offenders making them is heart-warming.

“Some of our folks have absolutely nothing and when they are given this mat by someone who didn’t have to do this, by someone in prison for life and they make these mats for people that are homeless, it means everything to them,” said Becky White, who helps distribute needs for disadvantaged families through the Columbus Dream Center.

Volunteers said these projects are just one way to show people care about those in prison and living on the streets.

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