University students jump in to help inmates turn jeans to quilts

Contributed photo: WWU’s criminal justice fraternity provides jeans for offenders incarcerated in the Jefferson City Correctional Center to use for making quilts. Left to right, front row: Lacy Gevers, Kirsten Hipkins, Patrick Powers, Zach Brubaker, Shawn Claypool, Michael Stradford, Brian Walsh, Justin Simms; back row: Tyler Parker, Key’onta Johnson, Kia Coddington and Cory Harlan.

Contributed photo: WWU’s criminal justice fraternity provides jeans for offenders incarcerated in the Jefferson City Correctional Center to use for making quilts. Left to right, front row: Lacy Gevers, Kirsten Hipkins, Patrick Powers, Zach Brubaker, Shawn Claypool, Michael Stradford, Brian Walsh, Justin Simms; back row: Tyler Parker, Key’onta Johnson, Kia Coddington and Cory Harlan.

When Cory Harlan toured the Jefferson City Correctional Center with his Intro to Criminal Justice class, what he saw sparked an idea. He wanted to be involved somehow in the Restorative Justice Program where he witnessed prisoners creating quilts from donated jeans and fabric. Thus, the Jeans for Justice project was born.

Harlan, with the help of advisors and fellow students at William Woods University, founded Lambda Alpha Epsilon, a criminal justice fraternity in the spring of 2010. Over the summer, the fraternity collected donated jeans and material for the project. Harlan said more than 100 pairs of jeans were collected and given to JCCC in August. Many of the quilts made by offenders incarcerated in prisons around Missouri were donated to organizations across the state in time for Christmas.

Missouri Girls Town Foundation in Kingdom City was one recipient of such a donation. Kathy Becker, executive director at Girls Town, said the quilts came a week before the holiday, just in time to give to the girls as Christmas presents.

“We had a lot of quilts delivered this year,” she said. “We’re going to be warm, warm, warm.”

Becker said the girls don’t often receive items that are homemade, so she thinks the Restorative Justice Program’s contribution was “great.”

“I like when people give back. This is nice that they are able to feel good about themselves and help the girls at the same time.”

Chris Cline, communications director for the Missouri Department of Corrections, said inmates who participate in Restorative Justice quilt items that are donated to various nursing homes, shelters, hospitals and victims of crimes.

Peggy Nickerson is a co-advisor to WWU’s criminal justice fraternity and assistant professor in the department of legal studies. She often takes classes, such as Harlan’s, to correctional facilities to “put a face to what the students are reading in their textbooks.”

Nickerson said in the Restorative Justice section of the prison, students can speak to inmates and hear them admit to their crimes and explain why they chose to participate in the program.

She said the prisoners in the program have an attitude that, “This is my way to make amends, to give back.”

“This movement for Restorative Justice is not new; however, there has been a change in our criminal justice system where there is more focus on the victim, and that has caused there to be a development where the convicted person or defendant is able, if they’re willing, to restore something back to the victim and the victim’s family.”

Harlan said when he saw and spoke with offenders at JCCC something “really touched home” with him.

“A lot of prisoners become lifers, and so many times they just don’t have any need to do good behavior,” he said. “This program really gives them an incentive, because they have to be on their best behavior to be in this program.”

“They basically take the opportunity to do something good and help people,” said Lacy Gevers, senior at WWU and treasurer of the criminal justice fraternity.

Gevers was also moved by her experience at the prison and helped to start Jeans for Justice.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to be involved and indirectly help others,” she said.

Harlan said fraternity members intend to continue collecting items for Jeans for Justice and hope to make another donation at the end of next summer. Jeans, swatches and fabric are all materials that can be donated. Harlan said interested persons can contact him at (573) 253-1274 if they wish to drop off donations at the university.

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