August 24, 2023

By Courtney Wise

A group of men at California State Prison have taught each other how to crochet, and they often donate the infant booties they’ve made or send stuffed animals home for their children to cuddle with at night. Crocheting, or brocheting, as the men call it, brings them joy and deep satisfaction. As inmate Frank Garcia told a prison reporter, “It makes me feel good about myself when I see the smiles it produces.”

Also in this issue: Parenting as a state of eternal love, wonder and fear. Maui parents who ran barefoot toward the fires to find their missing children. A summer sleepaway camp for Jewish kids of color. And a glimpse at the work of the prolific writer and coach who revolutionized organized sports with his book Why Johnny Hates Sports.

For dads dehumanized in prison, crocheting made all the difference

Above: Michael Arreygue, crochet artist at California State Prison in Los Angeles/Credit: Harper’s Bazaar

Michael Arreygue never imagined he’d be a master crochet artist. Incarcerated since age 17, he’s now 23 years into a 69 year-to-life sentence and a seasoned pro at the art, crafting perfect versions of pop culture cartoon icons: Sonic the Hedgehog, Winnie-the-Pooh’s pal Tigger, Eric Cartman from South Park. For him, crochet is both a creative outlet and tool to practice mindfulness. He told Kunlyna Tauch, a fellow inmate and writer for Harper’s Bazaar, that crochet helped him change his behaviors and begin to heal from the abandonment and abuse he suffered as a child. “I use my coping tools instead of fighting when I feel triggered—I walk away. I take myself out of that situation and focus on my breathing. Then I retreat into my cell and work out or—believe it or not, I crochet. It’s my way to work off frustrations,” he said. 

Arreygue isn’t alone. At California State Prison, he’s one of two dozen others to discover crochet, or bro-chet as they call it, can be a tool of personal transformation. Most unique is that the men don’t come to crochet through a formal prison program; they simply pass the skill to one another organically, even sharing yarn when someone runs out. What they make isn’t all born from pain; crochet is also where they pour their love, joy, and delight into something tangible. Arreygue has crafted about 20 characters for his nine-year-old son, Ace, which lay beside the boy in bed every night. The group even uses crochet to assist their community, making beanies and booties for infants and donating them to their local children’s hospital. As Tauch says, it’s a way to be more mindful of how they show up in life. 

“I crochet because it is a tangible thing I can do to bring joy and happiness to my community and those around me simply by showing people the things I make. It makes me feel good about myself when I see the smiles it produces,” said Frank Garcia, who says he was once someone people looked to for guidance on how to do bad things in his neighborhood. “Now I’m teaching people how to crochet, and that feels better. I don’t have a guilty conscience about that. Actually, I feel like I am helping by giving them an alternative to negative activities.”

Parenting is the best challenge

Terror is one of the most vivid emotions I felt upon learning I would have a child — one quickly replaced by delight and wonder. Five years later, the cycle of emotions hasn’t ended; parenting is one thing I’m always and never prepared for. That’s the case for most of us, and we wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s also the heart of an open letter to would-be parents from The Guardian’s Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

Reassuring a friend who wondered if children ruin your life, Cosslett writes, “I do not feel this…You create a new life in that child, and with that baby, you get a new life, too. I look back on my old self with fondness, and a little indulgence. She had a lot of fun, but it was time for a new adventure. A baby is more than just an adventure, though: you’re embarking on an epic quest that will hopefully see them safely into adulthood. We hear a lot about the obstacles we meet on the way and less about the wonders we encounter, so I wanted to say that: you will experience wonder the likes of which you can’t imagine now.”

Maui families from Lahaina devastated by grief amid catastrophic losses

Image from the Washington Post via Twitter

Trigger warning: graphic descriptions of calamity and death

Luz Vargas and Andres Garcia saw black smoke billowing over the ocean as they rushed away from work and toward home in Lahaina to rescue their 14-year-old son Keyiro. He’d been home, resting and hanging out with his terrier, Dexter, in anticipation of the start of school the next day. The closer they got, the more traffic backed up, prompting both of them to abandon their van. Garcia grabbed a bike and rode on through the crowds; Vargas ran, kicking off her sandals to race faster. But their neighborhood was already engulfed in flames, and two days would pass before they would make it home to the scene of a nightmare: Keyiro dead in his bedroom, his arm around Dexter. “He was the most charismatic, happiest little boy,” family friend Estrella Lopez, told the Washington Post. “He was a beautiful soul.” 

Others have been unable to find their loved ones at all: Two weeks after the fires that all but destroyed the historic town of Lahaina, nearly 1,000 people are reported missing, and officials can only encourage relatives to visit a center in Kahului to submit DNA samples. Survivors are also grappling with the erasure of centuries-old physical markers of culture. “This is hard psychologically because of the loss. We lost the whole culture of the village of Lahaina,” Joani Morris told USA Today. “Like now my grandchildren won’t go to a school that’s been here for 50 years, won’t dance hula.” The horror has left behind a stench. “You go to sleep crying, you wake up crying. That’s what happens,” said Paula Ventura. “The smell. The smell. The smell will never leave me, ever.”

There is also fear for the future. Many in Maui earn a living through tourism and related work, but the fires decimated some ten thousand jobs, according to the New Yorker. Two weeks ago, unemployment claims hit 1,800 and Hawaii’s economic agency reports that the state is already experiencing a tourism loss of more than $1 million. “Maui is closed” was the refrain in the days immediately after the fires that took away Lahaina, morphed now into “Lahaina is closed,” after being reminded by the state government that 80 percent of the island’s economy depends upon tourism.

But Maui tourism “was built around Lahaina tourism,” says Denver Coon, a third generation operator of a boat company there. With boats saved from the fire, Coon and his brother-in-law took to the water to pick up rescues. He’s hoping to avoid laying off most of his staff, but fears it may be inevitable. “It’s almost like an invisible fire,” he told the New Yorker. “It’s going to keep burning, and it’s going to destroy a lot more lives than it already has.”  (Here are some organizations you can send donations to help the people of Lahaina.)

In other news…

Jewish summer camp for children of color: Camp Be’chol Lashon is a refuge for children who feel like outliers among outliers — Jewish children of color. Through the sleepaway camp, its founders aim to create spaces for youth to build community, experience joy, and have frank conversations about race and identity. Isaac Harrison, a Black 10-year-old from Oakland, told the Associated Press that he was bullied for his race last summer at a traditional Jewish summer camp. “There were no kids of color there,” he said. “Some kids kept saying that you can’t be both Black and Jewish. They said that you can’t be two things. They were just being really mean, but here no one’s mean like that.”

A good coach: Ronny Roby of Grand Rapids, MI (Credit: Daytona Miles)

An update on the acclaimed author of Why Johnny Hates Sports: Last September, MindSite News carried a story written by Heaven Jobe called Out of bounds: Coaching alliances call foul on abusive sports parents. Among the people we interviewed was Fred Engh, who for decades has been a leading advocate for putting fun and safety back into kids’ sports. Engh wrote Why Johnny Hates Sports in 1999 and went on to found the National Alliance for Youth Sports, which trains coaches, volunteers and sports leaders to help kids enjoy sports’ lifelong benefits. Besides training coaches to be fair and avoid playing favorites or bullying players, he and NAYS have also sought to stop out-of-control sports parents from abusing players from the stands.

But Engh hasn’t limited himself to revolutionizing organized sports: He has written more than 10 other books, including two remarkable memoirs, Matchsticks: A Memoir in Black and White, which chronicles his journey as the first white student to enroll in Maryland State College, then an all-black school, in 1961; and Never The Twain Shall Meet, a book about his unexpected friendship with Bob Taylor, who was his partner on Maryland State’s college’s championship golf team and later became a New York Giant. Most recently, Engh has also written Billy Jones’ Father and the Apple Tree, a fictional tale based on a true story about a young athlete physically and psychologically abused by his father – a book that Sophia Ajayi of the Online Book Club called “rich, engaging and deeply moving.” If Engh’s books are not available in your local library, you can find there here.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Type of work:

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter and freelance writer. She is the host of COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience, a 2020 project between WDET and Documenting Detroit which won an Edward R. Murrow...