Lynn Zwerling, 67, retired in 2005 and didn’t know what to do with her time, so she followed her passion and started a knitting group in her town. The group quickly grew to 500 members. “I looked around the room one day and noticed how relaxed it was,” Zwerling says. “Here were people who didn’t know each other, had nothing in common, sitting together peacefully like little lambs knitting. I thought, ‘It makes me and all these people feel so good. What would happen if I would teach a group of people that never experienced this before?’”
Her idea was to bring knitting to a men’s prison, but she was turned down multiple times. Wardens assumed the men wouldn’t be interested in such a feminine hobby and worried about handing out knitting needles to prisoners who had been convicted of violent crimes. Five years passed before the Pre-Release Unit in Jessup accepted her, and Knitting Behind Bars started. The men weren’t too enthusiastic at first, complaining that knitting was too girly or too difficult. But Zwerling assured them men had actually invented knitting, then gave them a short knitting lesson she says can teach anyone.
The prisoners started by knitting comfort dolls, which they gave to children removed from their homes due to domestic issues. Then they moved on to hats for kids at the inner-city elementary school many of the prisoners attended, Zwerling says. The prison’s assistant warden, believes the men involved with Knitting Behind Bars get into trouble less often. “It’s very positive because you can see the dynamics of their conversation during the knitting class, it’s very calm and soothing,”