Trash turned to treasures

An article in the local paper which deals with the idea that jewelry
is created by the desire for ornamentation, and the avalibility of
material resources.


Trash turned to treasures: Inmates create jewelry by using discarded

By: Lynn Larowe - Texarkana Gazette
Published: 07/15/2007

An inmate at Miller County Jail shows off his ring and necklace
made from food wrappers and paper. Hispanic prisoners brought
the craft into the jail and have taught many of the others how
to make the woven wears.Discardeditems like candy wrappers,
potato chip bags and grocery sacks are commonly used by inmates
to create jail house jewelry. Pieces of a grocery sack are tied
to something in the prisoner’s cell and stretched. The stick
from a corny dog is tied to the other end and the stretched
plastic is twisted and twisted until it becomes a strong enough
strand to braid, knot and weave. Brightly hued bits of packaging
from sweets and junk food purchased in the jail commissary are
interwoven to add flash and color. For some, it brings to mind
the old adage, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” The
quality of the creation depends largely on the skill of the
artist. Some have more time to spend on their designs than
others. “I use square knots on mine,” said one inmate who sat
waiting in court for a hearing. “Mine are kinda crude but some
of these guys can really do amazing things. They spend hours on
them.” Time is something inmates at the Miller County
Correctional Facility often have plenty of. “They have made me
flowers,” said Sheriff Linda Rambo. "I’ve gotten a ring, too."
Rambo says the inmate who presented her with the flowers
fashioned them from trash and gave them their color by
meticulously scraping the lead from colored pencils to use as
dye. A man in street clothes sitting in court last week had two
crosses hanging from his neck. He said they were given to him
during a brief stay behind bars. “People are always asking me
about them,” said the man, who mentioned the crosses bear
special significance because they were created by hand and are
one-of-a-kind. Rambo says the crafting of the religious symbols
and other items by inmates makes them feel productive in a
setting where depression can overcome the mind.

“What else have they got to do,” she said. “I can’t let them wea=
r metal crosses because of security issues.” Many inmates say
they “find God” while incarcerated. Feelings of loss, isolation
and a need for redemption are likely at the root of the jail
residents’ increased spirituality, according to many Websites
addressing the subject. “This is going to be so hard on my
family, especially my daughter,” said the square-knot
cross-wearing inmate. “I just got five years but I’m still
positive because of the Lord.”

Regarding inmate jewelry - I’ve been a Corrections Officer (my day
job) for 24 years. The amount of imagination due to incarceration is
unbelieveable! If only this creativity could be used
positively…Both men & women have made some truly beautiful items.
It’s amazing how far “trash” will go. All the way from "sparkle"
rings - made with the metallic side of candy wrappers to bracelets,
necklaces, letter holder, bags, crosses for display, etc… Normally,
in our jail, these items are considered contraband and confiscated
or placed in their personal property - this due to use in gambling -
which leads to fights. The cross necklaces are especially
complicated and we all understand the meaning, etc., but, they’re
made too well and injury has occurred after one inmate grabbed onto
the back of one necklace, dragging another halfway up a stairway
before we could stop them.

Some of the women have ravelled socks, using the threads in a
"finger crochet", since hooks aren’t allowed. They’ve created
beautiful flowers hanging from “chains” for necklaces, bracelets &
rings or decoration on their wrapper purses. They know these pieces
will be confiscated/placed in property, so, they usually send them
home to their loved ones.

Like I said before, too bad this creativity couldn’t be used
positively on the “outs”.

I’m just wondering why these can’t be sold to let them purchase
things they need or want from the prison store-maybe a prison art
store or gift shop for visiting families? It would be interesting to
see them.


Did you ever think of photographing those items?

Best regards from Austria

At my prison for women, (population 4,410) every possible type of
craft you could imagine is available for inmates to work on.
Everything from needle point (and yes, knitting too) to a graduate
welding program for which their jobs are set upon release.
Refridgeration, mill and cabinet, printing, cosmetology, optical
manufacture, upholstery,…Every single inmate, unless medically
unassigned, holds a job, is in a trade class, or is working on
completing their education.

There’s a hobby/craft department where they make bushels of
children’s clothing. Every type of artistic medium is available and
the results are proudly displayed in the visitors gift shop.
Fantastic stuff as you might imagine coming from hands and minds that
are skilled at tuning everything else out. I did verify from one of
my patients before replying, that yes there are jewelry supplies and
jewelers tools in class and she has learned prong setting; file
notching and such. Their wares are sold or donated usually for
children’s charities.

The prison’s gift shops (galleries really) are accessible to the
public and all you have to do is drive into one.

Jaye - the nurse who can’t break away from serving the under-served
in order to enroll in jewelry school.