On Aug. 18, 2021, Washington Post writer Cathy Free shared the stories of prisoners Richard Sanders, William White and Fred Brown. They are serving time in the South-Central Correctional Center in Licking, Missouri. The three are also active in the prison’s quilt-making program.
Brown, 66, recalls watching his mom sew drapes as a child in Chicago. Now he enjoys sewing too. Not what you would expect from a prisoner convicted of armed kidnapping and rape and serving 15 years to life. He began sewing four years ago after learning inmates were making quilts for charitable organizations and children in foster homes. In the 10 years since it began, the prison group has donated over 2,000 quilts.
The prisoners design and sew personalized birthday quilts for foster children in Texas County, where the prison is located. Case manager, Joe Satterfield, who oversees the program said, “They especially love making something for kids who might have nothing… caseworkers in the area provide us with the kids’ first names and birthdays, and the guys do the rest… It gives them comfort and satisfaction to know that a quilt they’ve made is going to a child who may not get another birthday present. You can really see a change in attitude with the guys after they’ve been doing this a while…”
In 2015, as William White was beginning a 25-year sentence, he heard about the prison’s sewing room. Prior to his incarceration he ran an upholstery shop in St. Louis. He thought sewing in prison might help pass time. Quilting helped him find new purpose and he now spends almost seven hours each day designing and sewing kid’s birthday quilts while also working 8-hour shifts as a cook. White said, “I don’t need much sleep, and… I’d rather be here doing something for a child who needs it…”
Richard Sanders was sentenced to life without parole in 1979 for his part in a robbery and two murders. He has serious regrets about his past but sewing has changed his perspective. He says, “I was young and stubborn… but as I grew older, I decided that I had to stop blaming others and do something to help make up for what I did.” Since arriving at South-Central in 2015, he has sewn hundreds of quilts. He takes pictures of each one and sends them to his mother.
These quilts often make a difference in the lives of the children who receive them, but they make even more of a difference in the prisoners who sew them. Why? Because loving others changes us. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “…the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:14, NLT)
When we love others as we should, we never intentionally hurt them, we want to help and encourage them. If each of us were to fully obey this command, prisons would become unnecessary and everyone’s life would be better because love changes everything.