Thursday, February 03, 2011

Sentenced to Knit

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice in Scotland, Kenny MacAskill, has authorized community-based punishments instead of short term jail sentences (low level offenders who would be sentenced to fewer than three months). Politicians, and presumably Scottish citizens as well, are up in arms because sometimes that community-based punishment doesn't include litter collection.

They let these lawbreakers knit.

The punishment of raises so many questions.

Let's begin by assuming that the research the government references--that manual labor in the community works far better than short-term prison sentences* and actually stops them committing further crimes--is correct. I don't want this devolving into some kind of law and order debate. Because I come out on the side of anarchy every time.

Let's instead think about what knitting as punishment says about us.

  • Isn't knitting a kind of punishment? Aren't we masochists?
  • What is meant by punishment? Is it possible that creating for charity raises an awareness of community that would change these women's perspective on their own participation in that community? And does litter collection** do a better job of this than knitting or cross stitching for others?
  •  Does this imply somehow that your creating items to be donated to or sold for the benefit of charity is punishment? Or is the "punishment" that these offenders--and let's face it they're probably petty thieves or drug users, possibly prostitutes--are learning that "service is the rent we pay for breathing"?
  • Is knitting the kind of "useful skills" we should teach criminals? If not, what sort of "punishment" would teach useful skills?
  • Given how long it takes to make knitted items, is it "tough manual labor"? Could it be tough manual labor for some but not others? And, is it because they are men who don't knit that they don't see the possibility that knitting is tough manual labor? Should the offenders be made to sweat?
  • Is it possible that knitting--the new yoga--is also the new 12 step program?
  • Once some of these politicians run afoul of the law (let's face it) and end up in the British equivalent of "Club Fed," is that a better punishment than making them knit?
  • What precisely is the journalist saying with this sentence? "One woman sentenced to 240 hours' community service is understood to have spent her entire time knitting." Not sure if it's the "understood" or "entire" that peeves me a bit.
On the one hand, I think many of us believe that crafting can change a person. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure when we sit down to do our thing we don't think of it as punishment. But I have shown articles in the past that do view handwork as tedious, boring, requiring patience, in short, punishment. I feel at once like it's a great idea, but one that seems to raise difficult questions about the choices we make. At the same time, rejecting knitting as a possible "hard manual labor" continues to diminish what we do, which is indeed hard (specialized), manual, and work.

* This isn't just a British thing--here's a report from Cleveland
** litter collection, graffiti removal, renovating elderly care homes, restoring fallen gravestones, shoveling snow


Meadows08 said...

The only thing I can think of is "WTF!"

Alice said...

I for one know people who would love to 'have' to spend time knitting.

You raise some really interesting questions. Knitting as punishment irritates me in some ways, on the other hand it might do some of them good! Maybe it all comes down to the fact that one person's punishment is another person's delight... the trick is to assign the right tasks to the right people.

RuthB said...

Well, maybe they make them use really crappy yarn, slightly burred needles, and ban TV and radio.

Let's sentence some folks to hours of gueling statistics of algebra and see what a real punishment is like..... (Ok, not like I have a thing against stats or math, just figuring that for most convictions a hundred hours of graphing x and y would seem cruel and unusual in the extreme.

mainely stitching said...

What a weird concept! But yes, most non-crafters do see what we do as being laborious and somehow unpleasant (or as an utter waste of time, but we won't get into that). I'd rather see people doing just about anything of practical value, however they perceive it, than mooning about in an institution.

Christine said...

I found all of this hysterical! Thank you for a good laugh!

Giovanna said...

Thanks for the heads-up: I will promptly move to Scotland and become a low-level offender... :-)

Anonymous said...

Have you seen this video? It is called a Chinese MC Hammer - but you have to check out the lady knitting in the background - I watched it without sound - and she never pays him any attention during the entire time!

Anonymous said...

Try checking out this link, quite amazing what prisoners can do if they put their mind to it.

C in DC said...

I've taken a while to respond, because I wanted to think about the issue a bit.

My take is that with low-level offenders you want "punishment" that keeps them busy and doing something that's out of their normal routine. It doesn't have to be a task that no one else wants to do (e.g., litter collection), just something that benefits the community in some manner. I like that this punishment may be teaching a useful skill rather than just be a thankless task.