Rebecca Shlafer, Ph.D., MPH, an alumna of the Institute of Child Development (ICD), and Laura Reimann, an undergraduate child psychology student in ICD, were recently featured in the Star Tribune for their involvement in Project Teddy Bear, a restorative justice project at a Federal Correctional Institution in Sandstone, Minn.
Shlafer, who teaches an honors class titled, Incarceration and the Family, partnered with Diana Poch, a psychologist at Sandstone, to launch the project. Poch had noticed positive behavior changes in inmates who learned how to crochet and were teaching others the craft.
Last semester, Shlafer and her students collected a total of 350 pounds of yarn to provide to the inmates. With the yarn, the inmates crocheted animals for sick children at four Twin Cities Ronald McDonald Houses.
“It was so powerful for my students to learn how many consequences there are to sometimes very limited decisions,” Shlafer said. “They made an impact in a way that really challenged the students’ assumptions about who is in prison for what and why, raising questions around equity.”
Reimann plans to continue to raise awareness about Project Teddy Bear next semester as Shlafer’s teaching assistant. “People have a tremendous capacity to change if given the chance and the resources,” Reimann said. “They are creating something with another human in mind and giving something back to a community that thinks they are only taking.”