Program teaches inmates how to create learning tools for classrooms

Education is one of the key components to breaking the cycle of childhood poverty. (WKRC)

LEBANON, Ohio (WKRC) - Education is one of the key components to breaking the cycle of childhood poverty.

Teachers in the Tri-State's poorest communities received almost $9 million worth of school products in 2018. Some of those learning tools came from an unlikely place: prison.

Jamie Cason is doing time for drugs. He's been locked up at the Lebanon Correctional Institution. Good behavior behind bars gave him to the opportunity to work in a program called Crafts with Convictions.

Luis Cardona also got caught with drugs.

"I know myself coming from poverty that little things like this mean a lot to a little kid," Cardona said.

And little kids do benefit from his work.

Carthage preschool teacher Samantha Tincher used to spend $800 each school year from her own pocket. She now spends half of that as she qualifies for Crayons to Computers.

The nonprofit near the Norwood Lateral has shelves packed with pens, notebooks and more. One section has learning tools that are handmade by the Crafts with Convictions inmates. Tincher says she looks forward to shopping in that section.

"When I step in front of that, it excites me because that's where you can get creative and get all the different resources," Tincher said.

Prisoners make items like simple cutouts that Tincher says she uses as journals.

"And inside are pages for them to do their journal writing. They can do artwork in each page; they can do lessons on each page," she said.

The hand-sewn chair cover is the most popular item among teachers. Lebanon is not the only prison that makes all the crafts. Crayons to Computers partners with 16 prisons total.

Crafts with Convictions started 20 years ago with one project making flash cards. State institutions require rehabilitation as part of community service. Now, inmates in several different facilities spend more than 5,000 hours a month making learning tools, often using recycled materials.

"Things come up and we find ways to put them to good use and give them another life," said Amy Cheney with Crayons to Computers.

It's creating another life for the inmates too, who will have a chance to break out of their past. They work each day toward giving children learning tools so that a new generation learns to not make costly mistakes.

Crafts with Convictions created 62 unique items in 2017 that are worth about $1.2 million.

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