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Sign makers

Women inmates sew
decorations for city’s Bicentennial

City Hall, Brown Gym
to be decorated like they were in 1909

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(May 2009) – Women offenders at the Madison Correctional Facility volunteered to help the Madison Bicentennial Celebration Committee make buntings and banners to adorn City Hall and Main Street in downtown Madison, Ind.
The women, part of a special project at the correctional facility, have worked four evenings a week for almost a month to get the special decorations ready in time for the 200th birthday celebration for the city.

Bicentennial Banners

Photo by Konnie McCollum

Offenders from the Madison
Correctional Facility used seven
bolts of cloth, or more than
1,200 feet of material, to make
bunting and banners to bedeck City
Hall, the Brown Gym and Main Street.

“We are so thrilled to have these women helping us,” said Jan Vethrus, chairperson of the Madison Bicentennial Celebration Committee. “They have really put a lot of effort into this project and have done a tremendous job.”
In 1909, during the city’s centennial celebration, City Hall was draped with huge patriotic buntings. The women at the facility are recreating the look. When finished, the decorations will hang on City Hall and the Brown Gym, and the smaller banners will run along Main Street from Jefferson to Broadway.
“It took us a couple of days to figure out exactly how to make the pleats,” said inmate Mary McClure, who learned to sew while incarcerated. “We finally got rid of the pattern and came up with a better plan.”
The 14 women were give seven bolts of red, white and blue cloth. That’s more than 1,200 yards of material. They had to devise a strategy for cutting each bunting, which are 17-feet long, and then pinning and pleating them. At first, they all worked on one bunting until that was done, but it ended up being too time consuming. The women have to have 30 large bunting and 53 smaller banners completed by June 1, so city workers can install them before the 200-hour party.
“We don’t know how long the decorations will be up,” said Vetrhus. “If they hold up under the weather conditions, we’d like to leave them in place until fall, when the Bicentennial Musical and the Bicentennial Train Excursion are conducted.”
Inmate Kim Bennett finally came up with the best method. She divided up the jobs and assigned people tasks. “Things have run smoothly since we started working on specific things,” she said.
Bennett and McClure are part of the Growth, Responsibility, Integrity and Purpose, or GRIP, project at the facility. During GRIP, offenders who qualify for the program all live in a community together, apart from the other inmates. They do an intense, in-patient substance abuse program that requires community service, said Jennifer Saroka, public information officer at the facility. “Not everyone is eligible for this program because of its intensity and duration,” she said. “For those that do qualify, we have a great success rate at this time, with rare recidivism once they leave our facility and go back into the community.”
All of the offenders agreed they were thrilled to be working on the sewing project for the city. “It makes me feel good to help the community,” said McClure, a GRIP mentor.
“I enjoy giving back to the community,” said Debbie Benson, who is also a GRIP mentor. “It’s nice to help people out.”
“Facility Superintendent Jan Davis stated, “I am proud of our GRIP Unit for taking on this project.  Our offenders truly feel honored to play a role in Madison’s Bicentennial.”

• For more information about the Madison Bicentennial Celebration or to become a volunteer for the celebration, visit: www.MadisonBicentennial.com.

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