Today’s class started off with a scare! When I arrived at the prison one of the women told me that we wouldn’t be able to have class today because the women had a mandatory group session with the psychologist. Since the women didn’t know what time this session started I decided to start the class and see how long we could squeeze in. I am very glad I made this decision because the psychologist didn’t start her session until 11:30- only 20 minutes before we usually start cleaning up.
Today we worked on a very complicated earrings that incorporates building a frame out of 3 pieces of wire and intermediate wire weaving techniques. I was impressed with how well the women did and their commitment to getting the weave right. Although many had to redo their weaves after the first try, eventually we found ourselves in a nice rhythm. Also, the women showed me project they have been doing on their own and many have begun to tweak the designs to come up with new models!
While we worked the women, once again, asked me what we were going to do in July (my next trip) and I asked them what they wanted to do. Of course, they all expressed interest in another leather working class, which I had already suggested to them. They also asked me to bring more product designs for them to sew. At first I was confused because I thought the women wanted a sewing class, but they assured me they could sew but rather needed product ideas.
One woman said, “We all need more work. You are the only person buying these types of products from the prison. We all want to make wallets and purses but we need the designs.”
Another woman chimed in, “We need money to send to our children.”
I realized the women weren’t suggesting new classes (later they said they want to keep doing jewelry) but rather expressing their needs. While most designers have access to the internet and television to generate product ideas, the women don’t have access to either of these things, making it impossible for them to come up with design ideas.
The challenge, now, will be to come up with new designs that can be distributed amongst the women for them to sew. Many of our designs were made with an older group of women who either designed the products themselves or collaborated with us on a design, putting in hours of trial and error. It isn’t fair to give these designs out, as I consider them the intellectual property of the other women, yet we need to create equal income economic opportunities for the new women joining our program.
On a side note, although there is a core group of women who sew, they pay other women in the prison to embroider the items, so that the income earned from our orders extends to the larger population.
Are there products you would like to see in our product line? Leave a comment and give us your suggestions!