An Inmate’s Perspective: From Pride to Compassion
Oct 07, 2015 11:11AM ● Published by Bryan Scott
By Erin Dixon
Draper - In recent months, the Draper Journal has published three articles about the Utah State Prison and some of the volunteers who donate their time. All three articles have been from the perspective of the volunteers, or state employees, and their thoughts about the volunteer programs. All have said that the programs can be life changing for the inmates, and that many of those who participate are less likely to come back to prison in the future. But what about the inmates themselves? Do they feel the same way?
Timothy R. Hansen has resided in the prison for 16 years. Before he entered the prison he said that, “I only knew how to take. I didn’t know how to give love.” The simple act of creating something for someone else changed that perspective into one that will not allow him to send out a crocheted blanket with a single flaw.
Hansen’s cellmate, Shorty, taught him to crochet. His first lessons were stitching one row, taking it apart and doing it again. At first it was tedious and frustrating. Once he felt confident enough, he moved on passed that single row and had crocheted about twelve inches of blanket.
One day he returned to his cell to discover that Shorty had unraveled the entire blanket, because of a single incorrect stitch on the first row. He was taught that a job not well done is not worth doing.
After several months, he became proficient enough to confidently teach others the same skill. But even still, if he notices a mistake, no matter how miniscule, he will unravel the entire article and begin again. Each item is made as if it were for his own children.
Crocheting gives the inmates sense of accomplishment, and teaches patience. It shifts their focus from their own lives to the needs of others. Hansen said, “The look on their faces, they have a great sense of satisfaction, it’s just awesome.”
“There’s a lot of the wrong kind of pride in here. In learning to give back they learn the good pride; To have pride in what they do for other people,” Hansen said. “Of the guys that I’ve known, the ones who participate don’t come back. The ones that just play cards all day, I’ve seen quite a few of them come back.”
In addition to crochet, there are other programs that Hansen, and other inmates can participate in, if given proper clearance. Hansen participates in the music school, and is learning to play the mandolin, saxophone and clarinet. Periodically the inmates will put on music shows and play for each other, some in groups, some solo.
Learning an instrument is another way for the inmates to get outside themselves, to make friends with each other; All the skills they learn from these programs helps to keep a calm environment inside the prison, and can give them something else to look for once they are released.
“The greatest thing is watching two guys who would never give each other the time of day on the streets come together to make music or to make something for people in need,” Hansen said.
Over time, with a little interaction even those who show up to the programs to waste time may learn something, and hopefully it is something that will help them grow. “To change you have to want to change. Even those who don’t want to change are welcome,” Hansen said.
Too often, when someone commits a crime and must spend time in prison for it, the family will cut them off to show disdain for the behavior. Hansen has always regretted that his mother wouldn’t talk to him after he went to prison, and with tear-filled eyes he expressed sadness that he didn’t get to talk to her before she passed only weeks ago.
“When a family member goes to prison, that’s not the time to drop them. That’s when they need their family the most,” Hansen said.
If you are interested in volunteering at the Utah State Prison, please visit: