Photo credit: Hugh Carey, Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Story originally reported by James Chilton in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle 

Women inmates at the Laramie County Detention Center are learning to quilt. Sheriff's Deputy Rick Watson launched the jail's quilting program three years ago, and those who are approved for the quilting program are introduced to a new skill, a creative outlet, and a way to help others.

Most of the women work in the kitchen, and as soon as they get off work each day they jump straight into quilting. Not only is it a good way to pass the time while bonding with fellow inmates, but "it helps them build self-esteem, pride in themselves," Watson said.

Sue Frerich, an outside volunteer with Cheyenne Heritage Quilters has been leading a quilting class at the jail for over a year. She says many of the women have little experience with sewing, but learn quickly. "It's fun to see some of the creativity that comes out of them. They just amaze me from one week to another," Frerich said.

Since the inmates spend so much of their free time quilting, they can finish three quilts a week. Many are donated to organizations in the community, such as Needs Inc., Laramie County Head Start, STRIDE Learning Center, and several local nursing homes. Last year, they made Christmas quilts for patients at the Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and they're currently working on 25 patriotic quilts for the Cheyenne VMAC for Memorial Day.

Cheyenne VAMC spokesman Samuel House said: "Our veterans love these gifts. And I think for these inmates, if what they're doing is helping them get through their own healing, and for them to come out of it a more well-rounded individual, knowing the time they spent actually helped to benefit someone, I think that's important as well."

The quilting program relies mostly on individual donations from folks in the community, as well as receiving donations through Needs Inc., which means they sometimes have a lack of materials for the women. "Batting is the hardest thing to get," Watson said. "I usually have to pay for that out of pocket."

Though most of their work ends up either donated or auctioned off, the women are allowed to make one quilt for herself. Many give it as a gift to their children or a family member.