These men are quilters, making birthday gifts for children in foster care. What is so special about them? They are also incarcerated… and their quilts are part of the restorative justice healing process. Read on to learn about the documentary currently being filmed in their Licking, Missouri prison and how YOU can help make a difference in their lives and in the lives of foster children who receive their quilts.
Meet the Filmmaker
Meet Jenifer McShane, an award-winning documentary filmmaker who doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. Her life’s work is focused on telling stories that shape a conversation around social justice topics, all while uncovering the humanity in her subjects. “I am drawn to the unexpected,” she says, “stories that are hopeful and transformative.”
Her current work in progress captured my imagination from the moment I heard about it. Who would have thought that prison inmates would be making quilts for charity? And how has this program in the Licking, Missouri prison changed their lives for the better?
Quilters in Prison: Restorative Justice in Action
The film, currently untitled and still in production, follows a handful of incarcerated men who spend up to eight hours a day sewing quilts for charity. “The words ‘quilting group’ do not usually conjure up the image of a bunch of men in gray uniforms sitting in a cinderblock room and being moved by the process of sewing quilts.” she says.
This group falls under the prison’s restorative justice program that encourages the participants to do something positive for others. These men have found true meaning through the process of giving back to the community and, in a sense, making amends.
“I first heard about the quilters from my editor who sent me a short article about the program.” Jenifer then visited the prison and observed the sewing room first hand, evaluating whether she could tell their story in a way that honored the intent of the restorative justice program, the humanity of those involved, and would show the viewer the healing power of art. “I left the prison knowing this would be my next project.”
This film focuses on the stories of several of the participating quilters. Being able to quilt, Jenifer explains, is an earned privilege. “They don’t want to just make a quilt; They want to make quilts that are beautiful, precise, and show how much they care.” Most of these men have never sewn before entering the program, and willingly spend many hours each day at the machine.
Jennifer notes, “One man I’m following works as a cook in the kitchen for his prison job, but his passion is sewing. In order to do that, he takes the earliest shift in the kitchen getting up at 2am so he can have as much time as possible in the sewing room.”
After a quilt is completed, the maker is given a photo they often share with loved ones. “My mom is really proud of me now,” one of the inmates said. “She knows I’ve changed and am doing something meaningful.”
Giving Back & How You Can Help
We all need a purpose, in life, no matter our circumstance — and this program provides it for a group of men who might otherwise not have the opportunity to help others. Making a quilt has so much more meaning when you do it for someone else — especially someone you will never meet. The finished quilts are presented as birthday gifts to children in foster care.
The only information the makers are given is the child’s initials (monogrammed onto the finished quilts) and their favorite colours. The men take particular care knowing that some of these quilts are going to older children who are aging out of the system and want to be sure these young adults have a gift they can cherish forever.
Since this foster care birthday quilt program started in 2021, approximately 200 quilts have been delivered to social services. Each quilt has created a bridge between the prisoners, who find meaning in giving to others, and the community of foster children, who receive a personalized gift made expressly for them.
FYI – Since the general quilting program started in 2015 more than 2,000 quilts have been made for local charities.
As every quilter knows, it takes resources to make a quilt. The prison is currently accepting donations of fabric, thread, batting, sewing machines, and sewing supplies to make this program possible.
Donations can be sent to:
DOC – Warehouse
Attn. Cara Page – Reentry Unit – R
2729 Plaza Dr.
Jefferson City, MO 65102
Email: [email protected]
Every donation should include a “Deed of Gift” form. You can download the form here.
Making an independent documentary is a commitment in terms of both time and resources. The average documentary takes four or five years to make. I’m not sure that is a bad thing. The flip side is that you really spend a lot of time filming and getting to know the story, all while raising funds.” According to Jenifer, those long-term projects tend to make a deeper connection with the audience as well.
As quilters, we can all relate.
I hope you’ll join me in making a meaningful donation (I’m sending batting!) to a charity of your choice this holiday season. As quilters, we all know that our handmade gifts can bring a powerful sense of comfort, love, and warmth to people we love. The story of these men who are sharing their creative passion with children in need truly touched my heart, and I am so thankful to be able to share it with you.