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Elves on the Inside : Prisoners Stitch Dolls and Make Toys for Needy Children

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Forget about making license plates and doing laundry. During the last year, some inmates at two jails run by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department spent their days making colorful rag dolls and bright wooden toys to be given out as holiday presents.

“The inmates feel they’re accomplishing something rather than just sitting, doing time in a cell,” said Sheriff John V. Gillespie, who gave some of the toys to needy children Tuesday during the Ventura County Board of Supervisors meeting.

Male inmates at the Rose Valley Work Camp made 300 wooden toys, including cradles, rocking horses and cars. The woodworking is one of several assignments at the part-time boot camp that opened more than a year ago. Others include working on the kitchen crew and doing construction jobs for the National Forest Service, authorities said.

At the Sheriff’s Branch Jail Honor Farm, women inmates were offered the option of sewing dolls during their free time. They made 150 dolls and stuffed animals, authorities said.

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Sheriff’s Department employee June Marsh, who supervises the sewing room, said inmates thought that making the dolls would be boring when the project began six months ago.

But when the women realized they were working for the children, they became more interested in the job, she said. In addition, they grew attached to the finished dolls, she said.

“They almost cried when we packed them up,” Marsh said.

But the two inmates who accompanied Marsh to the giveaway said it was great to watch the children receive the dolls.

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“We created some smiles for Christmas,” said Dawn Carter, 25.

Adisa Banks, 39, said she enjoyed personalizing her work, choosing expressions, trims and hair color for each of the dolls.

“One doll looks a lot like me,” she said.

Indeed, Banks, who had never sewn before, said she may continue making dolls for extra money when she is released from jail in a month.

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George Miranda, 38, who has served three months for a drug-related crime, painted many of the wooden toys at the Rose Valley facility. He said he volunteered to work day and night to get the toys ready for the holidays.

The Sheriff’s Department will donate the toys to organizations that include the Zoe Christian Center in Oxnard, Candelaria American Indian Council in Oxnard and some Boys and Girls Clubs of Ventura County.

Children from those groups eagerly lined up at the County Government Center for an early holiday Tuesday, carefully choosing from an array of bright rag dolls in colorful dresses and sturdy wooden fire engines and dump trucks.

Tehillah Moyd, 8, who is living at the Zoe Christian Center, scanned the selection and immediately picked a maroon doll with pink hair and a pink lace dress.

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“She’s pretty,” said Tehillah.

Jo Ann McAllister, principal of the small school run by the homeless shelter, said such gifts are important to the children at the facility.

“It means they’ll have something for Christmas when they might not otherwise,” she said.


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