Volunteers introduce knitting to inmates at county jail

LACONIA — Maryly Matthewman spends nearly every Monday afternoon in jail.

For about three or four years, she has been volunteering her time at the Belknap County House of Corrections as a knitting coach for some of the incarcerated women.

Recently, the yarn coffers got so low that Belknap County Department of Corrections Program Director Tamara McGonagle thought she might have to stop the program.

She sent an e-mail to Len Campbell of N.H. Catholic Charities, who forwarded the message to Alan Robichaud at Granite United Way and anyone else he could think of. And the yarn came pouring in.

"We have had an incredible amount of donations," McGonagle said yesterday, saying some came from area churches but much of it came from about 40 private donors.

On Tuesday, the table in the classroom was piled high with multiple types of yarns in a multitude of colors.

Matthewman and volunteer Irene Gordon sat at the table giving instruction to about six women who were knitting a variety of things.

One woman was knitting herself a pocket book while another was wrestling with her first attempt at knitting.

And many of the women, including "H" who, after knitting mittens for her oldest child and a blanket for her youngest, was working on a baby blanket with a hoodie for the Carey House — the transitional homeless shelter operated in part by the Salvation Army.

"H" said she learned how to knit while incarcerated but thinks its something she'll continue once she is released.

She said she finds it very relaxing but challenging at the same time.

Nearly all of the programs, except those mandated by law, for women in the Belknap County House of Corrections are assisted by community volunteers. In addition to knitting, "H" is a member of a book club, a Bible study class, an art class, a writing class and a Yoga Class — all assisted by volunteers.

"H" said she enjoys most of them except poetry. "And I'm not a very good artist," she added.

On the same side of the table sat Pam — an older inmate who was knitting what will become a small pocketbook.

"We really appreciate these women coming in and doing this for us," she said.

"Tamara has a lot of classes," she said, noting that the poetry class was on of her favorites. She said she especially likes it because there are no men in it.

"When there are guys in it it gets weird," she said.

Pam said her real handicraft specialty is quilting — something she learned from her grandmother.

She said she likes knitting and considers it a "pleasure" that the program allows them to do something for their families as well as the community through the Carey House.

"Even though we've made a mistake in society, we can do something to help others who are less fortunate," Pam said. "Most of the stuff we have done is donated.

As to the women who volunteer with their programs, Pam and "H" both said they are wonderful.

"They're non-judgmental and willing to listen," Pam said, saying Gordon, Matthewman and the other women who come to knitting class on Monday are people who just enjoy sitting around and knitting and chatting.

"Its relaxing," said Pam. "People are willing to see past the crimes, that we have the ability to things beyond break the law."

CUTLINE: (Knitting in jail) Maryly Matthewman and Irene Gordon volunteer on Mondays to teach a knitting class for women at the Belknap County House of Corrections. The yarn is primarily donated by churches and private citizens and the women use it to make blankets for the Carey House — a transitional homeless shelter affiliated in part with the Salvation Army. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Gail Ober)