Posts Tagged ‘Montana Women’s Prison’

Alicia Arthur sews fringe on pink shawls at the Montana Women’s Prison. (Bob Zellar/Billings Gazette)

Alicia Arthur sews fringe on pink shawls at the Montana Women’s Prison. (Bob Zellar/Billings Gazette)


One of the sadder facts about the Montana Women’s Prison is that a disproportionate number of inmates are Native.

One of the more heartening facts is that many of those inmates have chosen to pass their time by participating in the Pink Shawl Project.

That’s a nationwide program that provides handmade shawls to cancer survivors. Ideally, it also increases the awareness of the need for cancer screenings, especially among Native women, according to this Billlings Gazette story.

Reno Charette says the effect of participating in the Pink Shawl project has been profound for the inmates.

Shawls are a traditional part of many American Indian cultures, says Charette, director of American Indian outreach at Montana State University Billings.

“It’s a great way to share cultures,” she says. “It’s therapeutic, very calming but very labor intensive. By keeping the hands busy, it seems to free the mind.”

Melissa Spotted Bear, from the Billings Clinic Cancer Center and the National Cancer Institute’s Community Cancer Centers program, oversees the program with Charette.

Spotted Bear says cancer is the second-leading cause of death among American Indians, who are often diagnosed later in life than other segments of the population.

Working on the project “eases our minds; it takes us out of this place for a while,” says Jena Kennedy from the Blackfeet Reservation. “With this, getting back to my culture will help me go back to my reservation and talk about life here and open the eyes of the young to old traditions.”

Gwen Florio

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