Prisoners crochet 330 scarves and hats for needy

Published 9:56 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

Deerfield Correctional Center inmates, from left, Sheila McCaffity, Angela Harper and Shirley Allman model some of the 169 scarves they crocheted for needy children in Southampton County. GWEN ALBERS/TIDEWATER NEWS

CAPRON—Midway through her 13-year prison term, Debra Fortenberry found peace inside — through crocheting.

The art of processing yarn into fabric has once again brightened her days at Deerfield Correctional Center.

Fortenberry and 25 others at the women’s minimum-security prison near Capron crocheted 169 scarves and 161 hats for needy children. Many of them moms, the inmates completed the project in 23 days with yarn donated by churches, clubs and individuals. Southampton County Social Services will deliver the scarves and hats to families for Christmas.

“It just made you feel good inside,” said Fortenberry, who will be released in nine months for theft and forgery committed to fuel a drug habit.

Over the years, Fortenberry sent her crocheted items to her mother, daughter and granddaughter; it was nice to help someone else.

“It feels wonderful that they will accept it from us,” said the 58-year-old from southwestern Virginia.

Assistant Warden Dee Copeland said the idea for the project came out of a September advisory council meeting.

Inmate Shirley Allman of Crossville was put in charge.

The women, who stay in dormitory-style housing, crocheted alongside each other in their spare time, around their 40-hour workweek. Out of it came friendships and improved self-esteem.

“We see each other every day, but don’t really speak,” said Allman, who is serving seven years for embezzlement.

That’s changed.

“Before I came to prison, I thought all people (here) were bad,” the 42-year-old said. “We want people to know we’re not ‘bad.’ We made a mistake.”

Major Jerry Streat commended the women, who on Wednesday joined together to give the hats and scarves to county social worker Ruth Whitley.

“It’s just amazing to see all the talent in this room,” Streat said. “I hope when you return (to society), you put this talent to use. God has blessed all of you. You may be behind prison walls, but you’re not out of sight of God.”

Inmate Lianna Parker thought crocheting was only for “old people,” but learned differently. Serving 18 months for embezzlement, the 22-year-old from Newport News joined the project when she saw other inmates running around with scarves and hats.

The project also hit home for Parker, who has a 4-year-old daughter she won’t share Christmas with this year.

“It’s almost overwhelming just to know I can give to child during a time when I can’t give to anybody,” she said.

“For us to give back to kids makes you feel food inside,” Fortenberry added. “That the community will accept us.”