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Column #108

Quilting to Freedom

Chip Warren and Miles Folsom.

Miles Folsom began abusing drugs and alcohol when he was 11 years old.

His life was a turmoil of trouble, and not surprisingly, he repeatedly ran afoul of the law. By the time he was 16, he was sentenced to a 36-year prison term in the maximum security Wabash Valley Correctional Facility—the only adult prison in Indiana that houses kids sentenced as adults.

Miles is now 20 and has served four of those 36 years. Given where he is and how he got there, it would be easy to draw conclusions and make predictions about this young man and his future prospects.

However, thanks to an unusual relationship with a special mentor and an equally unusual program that has turned Miles into an avid quilter, those conclusions would be mistaken. And the predictions would have a high probability of being totally off base.

How is it that a young man who has known nothing but hard knocks manages to rise above that situation with an attitude devoid of bitterness and self-pity? How is he able to maintain his humanity in a system that can crush any remnants of benevolence from its participants?

Miles feels no ill will toward the judge who sentenced him so harshly or toward the place where he is incarcerated; in fact, he credits both with turning his life around. He is the rare example of the system working as it is intended.

I’ve written about the Purposeful Living Units Serve (P.L.U.S.) Program at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility before (see Maximum Security Quilts). This program has given Miles a way to change the trajectory of his life, and that new trajectory has to do in part, with quilting, and in part with a man who describes Miles as “a friend, a brother from another mother, a mentor, and a mentee.”

Chip Warren is a writer and filmmaker with Calamari Productions, a company that produces documentaries about juvenile justice and child welfare for major television networks such as PBS, NBC, ABC, A&E, and the Discovery Channel.

Chip first met Miles while working on a series called Young Kids, Hard Time for MSNBC, about youths serving long sentences behind adult prison walls.

“I’ve had the opportunity to get to know a lot of youth offenders, and I’ve developed working relationships with several of them,” Warren says.

“But in all my years of doing this work, I’ve never met anyone like Miles. We started exchanging letters and I began to realize what an exceptional human being he is. I didn’t realize at first what an important part of my life he would become. For the time that I've known Miles, he's had a remarkable intellectual and spiritual renaissance. He reads voraciously, writes voraciously, and assimilates what he reads in ways that are truly extraordinary. The letters he writes have touched people around the world.”

Recognizing Miles’ strength of character and his desire to transform who he is, Warren has taken it upon himself to help the young man in his quest to alter the course of his life.

In searching for a way to do so that would allow Miles to be a full participant in the process, Warren came up with the idea of taking the quilts that Miles makes through the P.L.U.S. Program and offering them to the public in exchange for a donation to the Miles Folsom Freedom Trust.

Warren has created a website called Quiltstarter (having the subtitle, Building a Second Chance One Quilt at a Time) to facilitate this process. Warren, who personally covers all costs associated with this effort, describes the trust and its contributions to Miles’ freedom in this way:

Freedom of the Mind: Miles has the opportunity to get his Associates Degree while living at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. He also can take other college correspondences courses to work toward other higher degrees.

Freedom of the Body: If donations exceed what Miles needs for his college coursework, the money will be dedicated to legal representation when we pursue a sentence modification, as a means to get him back into the real world where he can continue his journey.

Freedom of the Future: Getting out of prison is a challenging proposition, and lots of people re-entering society are starting from scratch. What remains in the fund after Miles walks free will be dedicated to his transition to independence. I will remain the executor of the trust for the first three years after his release and see to it that the initial stages of his new adventure are not hindered by financial hardship.

The quilts that Miles makes are all his original designs and he can make custom quilts upon request. The P.L.U.S. Quilting Program has no pattern books, and the men in the program share their craft knowledge with one another. All materials come from donations to the program, and everything from fabric scraps to worn clothing is used to make quilts.

To see Miles’ quilts or if you are interested in having him create a quilt for you, make your request through the Quiltstarter site. To make donations of any sort (fabrics, money, quilting books) to the WVCF P.L.U.S. Program please contact Tammy Ranard, P.O. Box 500, Carlisle, IN 47838 or tranard@idoc.in.gov.

Warren sums up his commitment to this project this way: “I am personally dedicated to seeing to it that Miles' personal growth and his journey on this planet continue to complement his sterling character. And someday, we're going to go fishing!”


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Archived blogs:

Column 144: Texas Community Marks Juneteenth Sesquicentennial with History Quilts
Column 143: Maya Embroidered Patchwork
Column 142: Huipil Patchwork Quilts
Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery

See other archived columns here

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