Author: Brad Deen
RALEIGH — Elmo came from Death Row.
The Muppet icon — plus a few hundred bunnies, bears and a Minion or two — will soon warm fragile newborns. The hand-crocheted goodies are a Christmas gift to UNC Rex and WakeMed hospitals in Raleigh.
They were given, and handmade, by 40 offenders at N.C. Correctional Institution for Women. NCCIW’s Crochet with Care Club spent the past month of their personal time furiously hook-weaving about 200 tiny blankets, beanies and stuffed animals for the local Neonatal Intensive Care Units.
“A lot of these women say, ‘I was in the NICU,’ either as a child themselves or their babies were,” said Probation and Parole Officer Danita James, who works closely with NCCIW’s re-entry team. “So it’s something really close to their hearts.”
The project also satisfies a need to atone for crimes and for having to leave their families. “They’re wanting to give back to the community,” said Wileasher Barrera, a re-entry case manager. “A lot of them feel like, if they can do this for these babies, it’s like they’re doing something for their own children.”
The NCCIW re-entry team played Elves on Friday, loading up the sleigh — a prison van and a Community Corrections sedan — at Santa’s Workshop on Bragg Street. They hauled gift bags and boxes stuffed with cellophane-wrapped cuddlys, plus several cartons of wipes, to the two hospitals.
“Oh, the parents are just going to love these,” said April Lalumiere, director of UNC Rex’s Women’s and Children’s Center. “I want these ladies [in the correctional facility] to feel pride, to feel good about what they’ve done.”
The newborns’ families will cherish the items, nurse Arlene Redgate said. A friend of hers has an adult son who was a 29-week preemie.
“She still has the quilt from the NICU. It’s something that has extreme meaning for her,” Redgate said. “He’s a Marine now.”
An included shadowbox tells the origin story of the gifts made by the hands and hearts of NCCIW’s Crochet with Care Club. “I know a lot of love went into this — and talent,” said NICU manager Andrea Garganese.
The more accomplished crocheters didn’t use patterns, said Crystal Powell, a re-entry administrator at NCCIW. “A lot of them just did it free-hand,” she said.
That includes one of the more prolific members of the club, a Death Row offender who made the Elmo and Pooh sets plus a flop-eared pastel bunny nicknamed Blueberry.
Several offenders with life sentences are also active in the club, but most will be getting out and re-entering their communities — some a little later than others.
“One offender, it was her time to be released,” recalled case manager Anthony Springs, “and she was trying as hard as she could to finish a blanket. When they came to get her, she said, ‘Can you give me one more second?’ ”
Call it a stitch in time served.
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