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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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