News Article Details

There's power in a heavy quilt

Lewiston Morning Tribune - 11/6/2017

Nov. 06--COTTONWOOD -- Several months ago a patient at State Hospital North in Orofino was suffering from anxiety and having trouble sleeping when a staff member recalled some research she'd heard about weighted blankets.

The blankets -- quilts sewn with plastic pellets inside to give them heft -- were developed for use on children with autism. The heavy blanket has been shown to have a soothing effect on someone suffering from anxiety.

"The idea of weighted blankets has been out there for a number of years and science backs it up," said Michele Chadwick, chairwoman of the State Hospital North advisory board and a former Gem County commissioner.

After a weighted blanket was donated and used by the patient who was having trouble sleeping, Chadwick said, it was reported that the patient had improved.

"That weighted blanket provided comfort, just like grandma's big heavy quilt you'd snuggle up in as a kid," she added. "Because it just felt like somebody was hugging you and that was the value of a weighted blanket."

The patient had been using fairly high dosages of sleeping aids but after using the blanket, those were not needed any longer.

The staff and advisory board of the hospital took notice.

"We went, 'Oh my gosh, I wonder if there's something to this,' " Chadwick said.

"This is a fairly simple tool and a solution to a much, much bigger problem. This was the perfect opportunity to think outside the box."

Jim Rehder of Cottonwood, who serves on the hospital advisory board and also was the warden for prisons in Orofino and Cottonwood, suggested inmates at the Cottonwood prison, who have already been making quilts out of donated denim for a few years, might take on the weighted blanket project.

Chadwick said the board began going through the process of introducing the program into the prison in May. By July prison officials had agreed to it and in September the inmates, under the guidance of Susan Stamper, who teaches sewing and quilting at the prison, made their first three blankets. The goal is to create four of them a month.

The blankets are being funded through donations from members of the public and hospital staff members, Chadwick said. As the word is spreading, though, more people have begun donating materials for the project.

"So people are just bringing things in," she said. "One of the tasks that we're in the process of doing is making a list of fabrics good for the donations and weights and where they're purchased and once that is all pulled together (the information) would be available on the Idaho Association of Counties and (Idaho Department of Correction) website."

In the future, weighted blankets may be available at State Hospital South, as well as juvenile detention centers and for children in foster homes, Chadwick said.

Brad Lutz, assistant warden of North Idaho Correctional Institution at Cottonwood, said creating the blankets helps inmates who need educational training and work skills.

"We want to focus on younger inmates that need some job skills or extra skills," Lutz said. "They're trying to incorporate math and technical reading into putting these together, so it's an educational thing for the inmates, as well as learning to sew."

Finding meaningful work for the inmates is a goal for prison staff, Lutz said.

"We're always looking for ways to keep them busier than they are right now," he said. "All of (the inmates) are taking treatment programs, but not all of them are in school. We would like to find productive things for them to do, but it takes money, it takes staff resources, it takes support from the department as a whole and we're looking for ways to increase the ability to do that. Staff and resources are the hardest thing."

Stamper said the weighted blankets are made by doubling a bed sheet and sewing a grid pattern into it, stuffing each pocket with plastic beads and quilt batting.

The blankets made so far, she said, weigh about 25 pounds each. Blankets are supposed to be about 25 percent of a person's body weight and the plan is to make blankets in three sizes for different sized inmates.

"It's a lot of weight but people that have anxiety, I think it makes them feel more secure," Stamper said.

Bill Farmer, head of the education department at the prison, said the work experience gained from projects such as this, including showing up on time, following instructions and being able to quantify their abilities, are factors many of the inmates lack.

"If you've never worked before, those are skills that you can describe what you did when you were in prison and to prove it and to gain confidence and all those kinds of things that going to prison takes away from you," Farmer said.

"The guys that have good strong work skills, they come in here and they just thrive. But they also model those work skills to other inmates. So you're seeing the guys that don't know how to work working right alongside the guys that do. We're finding that to be pretty darn successful."

Derek Martin Cocozza, 27, is an inmate who said his work on the project has had benefits he never expected.

"I know how to wind up a sewing machine, how to operate it and this is a good hobby," Cocozza said. "Something to fill my time with, to be more productive and show my kids and my kids' kids."

Charles Paradis, 45, is an inmate who has been mentoring some of the inmates on their work skills with the weighted blanket project.

"The younger guys they just seem excited about helping people because most of this stuff is for donations," Paradis said. "This program, I wouldn't say is like a normal prison. It's more geared toward helping (inmates) get the tools not to come back here again. It's helping a lot of people and I can see the benefits of it just every day."

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Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.

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(c)2017 the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho)

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