Article first published as Pride in a Tradition of 70 Years on Technorati.
For seven inmates at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women (MCIW), the “flagline” is a worthy place to be. For 70 years, inmates have made U.S. and Maryland state flags in a variety of sizes for Maryland’s non-profit agencies and state agencies. Each day, for six and a half hours, the women design, cut and sew flags with only a few sewing machines, producing an average of 700 per year. The makers of the flags can earn up to $4 per day and the flags range in price from $30 to $58.
Most prisons in the U.S. utilize a “sew shop” to make prison uniforms and bed linens for the inmates. Some prisons allow inmates to make “trauma bears” or rag dolls for needy children. Inmates have even volunteered to sew blankets for a Children’s Advocacy Agency when they were running short on their donations.
The purpose of these programs are to teach inmates a skill, independence and a discipline to complete a project either to sell or for a cause. It has been proven that an individual trained while behind bars will not return after they have been released.
Natasha Fowlkes, an inmate at MCIW with a sentence of 28 years, is the current “line leader” and trains each of the inmates to design and make the flags. Ms. Fowlkes has been sewing flags for three years and has learned to appreciate the dedication it takes to make the flags and now enjoys the task and hopes to continue after her incarceration in a career of making flags.
At the Maryland Institute, these seven inmates have a special task this year. Last fall, Governor Martin O’Malley declared that flags no longer fit to be displayed, should be replaced with the War of 1812 Flag, commemorating the upcoming 200th bicentennial of the War of 1812. The Maryland Institute in Jessup is the only facility contracted to make and sell these flags to government agencies.
According to the inmates, the War of 1812 flag is more complicated to design and sew because of the placement of the 15 stripes and 15 stars compared to the current 50 stars and 13 stripes. However, they look forward to the challenge of making something new. It took Ms. Fowlkes two weeks to make one of the flags that will be hung in the Maryland State House. So far, 60 flags have already been sold.
According to Renata Seergae, spokeswoman for the Maryland Correctional Enterprises, “These are women that have no freedom right now, and they are creating the ultimate symbol of freedom. They think more about the freedom that they once had, and it’s a special thing for them. They take pride in it.”