The Inmate Quilting Program at the Lea County Correctional Facility began in January 2002 when the Programs Warden, Sandra McFadin was looking for a job program for the Protective Custody Inmates of Housing Unit 4. Being a quilter herself, she thought that a premium job program of producing quilts would be a benefit to both the Hobbs community and the Correctional Facility. Initially, 10 Inmates were hired to be Quilt Techs. Warden McFadin thought that sounded more manly than "Quilters" would as, after all, these inmates are MEN!
Very quickly more and more Quilt Techs were hired and a few were promoted to Production Leaders. All in all, 60 inmates were hired to make quilts by hand. Warden McFadin had been doing all of the preparation work herself. That quickly became too much for her, so Production Leaders were hired to take over the job of creating the quilt kits that are distributed to the Quilt Techs.
The Quilters have 6 weeks to complete an quilt. They are given a kit containing all the pieces of fabric needed to piece the pattern. It is due to be turned in for batting and backing 13 days later. Once the backing and batting are supplied, they have 3 weeks to hand quilt it. They then turn it in to have the binding applied and returned to them for the final stitching of the binding to the back.
The current Quilting Program Supervisor (me) has been with the program since August of 2002. The number of Quilt Techs has grown to over 200 and there are 12 Production Leaders. This job has become the most sought-after job in the Protective Custody Unit. The Quilt Techs start at $.40 per hour and can earn as much as $.50 per hour. The Production Leaders start at $.50 per hour and can earn up to $.60 per hour. Full time work is 30 hours per week.
The Production Leader Inmates use modern quilting tools such as Olfa Ergonomic Rotary Cutters (45mm), Olfa Cutting mats (24" x 36") and Omnigrip Rulers (6" x 24.") Supplies are ordered wholesale so the quilters are using Quilt Shop quality fabrics. Our budget has grown from approximately $250 per week for supplies to $2500 per month.
Some items that we quilters take for granted aren't allowed to be in an inmate's hands -quilting hoops, for example. It isn't the hoop, it's the 4" long bolt that tightens the hoop around the quilt. That could be sharpened into quite a nice "shank." So we have deciced that they can have a 10" diameter embroidery hoop. Not quite the same thing, but it will do in a pinch.
Over 7,000 quilts have been donated to places through-out America and into Mexico. This program has been a wonderful public relations tool for the prison. The Inmates enjoy getting a chance to do good things for people.
The Inmates are encouraged to create designs for both the quilt top and the quilting patterns. The Quilt Techs began to complain about having to piece triangles. One of the Production Leaders became fed up with the complaints, so he designed a pattern and called it "Andy's Revenge." It is loaded with triangles, but has a nice design. One of the all-time favorite designs is the Carpenter's Wheel. It's a nice masculine quilt with a wonderful geometric look.