by LEAH WOODS
Tonight, February 9, 2022 will be the last class of the initial 12-week Women’s woodworking Prison Outreach Program (P.O.P.). When I began teaching on October 27, 2021, I had 7 students register for the class, by week 3, only 6 remained. To date, 6 students will have finished the program. The 12-week curriculum that Lynn Szymanski, Mary McLaughlin, and I created, provides detailed information, during each class period about the field of woodworking and what it entails. We discuss basic information about trees along with furniture-making, carpentry, and construction material, and demonstrations of hand and power tools.
While I had planned to give more lectures, and incorporate group design activities, I quickly realized the women were most interested in building, carving, and sanding the wood as opposed to theoretically discussing the field, at least during this initial session. One of the challenges we encountered was that the women were only able to access their projects during class time, Wednesday nights from 6-9pm. Therefore, any time I spent lecturing during class, was less time they had to work on their projects. In addition, several women received the Covid-19 booster shot, and had to miss class as a result of feeling ill, and there were no opportunities to make-up this lost time.
The projects we worked on during the 12-week course included carving a spoon and building a box with a hinged lid. Both of these projects were well-received, and both presented challenges I will need to address for the future. The biggest challenge I encountered while teaching woodworking at the Correctional Facility related to the conditions of our classroom. Unfortunately, there is only one classroom we can use. This room is occupied during week days with a cosmetology program, and thus available at nights and on weekends. Because the room is not a woodworking workshop, we had to improvise regularly to create “proper” conditions. For example, when drilling holes for dowels (a woodworking joint) most people would clamp a piece of wood into a vise or other holding mechanism, to secure that piece of wood to the table. We did not have any vises, so we clamped small pieces of wood to small cosmetology tables, and clamped those tables to larger work tables. This comical-at-times and make-shift way of working, while a bit frustrating, did not seem to deter to the women’s enthusiasm in working on any of their projects.
The attitude of the women throughout the entire session of classes was grateful, engaged, and lighthearted. During one class I demonstrated how to use a cordless drill to create holes in a piece of wood. Later that same class, the woman I taught, proceeded to teach another woman, and this is how it went for many classes. The women seemed to enjoy asking each other for help and sharing their techniques and ideas.
As I prepare to begin a new 12-week session on February 16, I plan to repeat the curriculum with minor changes to the projects.
The Women’s POP is funded by generous individual gifts and grants from NH State Council on the Arts, The NH Women’s Foundation, The Greenspan Foundation and The Madelaine G. Von Weber Trust.
To make a donation in support of the Women’s Prison Outreach Program, or any of our educational initiatives, click here.