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Dressing Chickens in Prison

January 26, 2017

By Paula Andrew

Department of Corrections

Chicken wearing a sweater

“Peppa” the chicken struts around in his newly-made sweater. Inmates at the Washington Corrections Center recently knitted sweaters for the prison’s chickens to keep them warm in the winter. (Melissa Johnson, WCCW)

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GIG HARBOR – Human Resources Consultant Paula Andrew is the self-proclaimed “Chicken Lady” of Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW). When she saw a picture of a chicken in a sweater vest online, an idea popped into her head: Why not do something similar for the chickens at WCCW?

Andrew, who raises chickens at home, worked with the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) to secure funding for two coops on wheels that can be carted around the prison, along with the chickens. The poultry were brought to the prison from a nearby farm in June 2015. The manure the chickens produce is used to fertilize the prison gardens. The gardens are used for growing food for local food banks as well as to supplement food in prison kitchens. With outdoor temperatures dropping as winter approached, and the chickens having a tough time making it through the previous wet and muddy winter, Andrew decided to take the sweater idea a step further.

Andrew is a self-taught knitter. The picture of the chicken in the knitted vest struck a chord with her, “as does anything to do with chickens,” she said. Half-jokingly, she thought of the recreation program at WCCW. The program has a bevy of talented inmates who are also skilled crotchetiers, knitters and quilters. The inmates are part of a group that has created hand-made blankets, hats and other items for charities around the world.

Andrew contacted the prison’s recreation specialist, Carrie Hesch, for support and bounced the idea of making sweater vests for the chickens off of her. Hesch didn’t skip a beat and committed to the project. Hesch said her favorite part of the project was “seeing the ladies enjoy a great laugh and then being fully-committed to the WCCW brood.”

Two weeks later, Andrew and Hesch met at the WCCW chicken habitat. Hesch arrived grinning from ear to ear while toting a bright blue prototype of the chicken sweater vest that the inmates made. Hesch said when she shared the concept of making chicken sweaters with the inmates, they laughed in disbelief. However as they started the project, the inmates embraced every detail and even came up with creative slogans to adorn the sweaters like “WCCW Crew” and “Jail Bird.”

The vests were a little large, but perfect for one of the members of the flock, “Peppa,” who pranced around the habitat with her buddy “Salty.”

Andrew expressed her gratitude saying, “Thank you, Carrie and company, for making a difference in the life of the WCCW chickens!”

Hesch smiled and responded, “I am of the belief all things are possible when many hands work together.”

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