Children in LA’s foster care system are getting a special gift just in time for winter - a warm, cozy blanket of their very own.
The surprising thing is that they’re coming from inside the Twin Towers jail, where inmates are making them by hand. The chilling sounds of cell doors closing are being tempered by the sounds of women cutting and tying blankets together to give to needy children.
“Because I was in foster care myself, I know what it feels like to not have anything - no comfort or having parents around,” said Saffiyyah Salaam, an inmate in the jail. She said the women who are helping to make the gifts know how much a cozy blanket can help.
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The program is called “999 for Kids,” named after the LA County Sheriff’s Department’s radio code for “help.”
Each year, low risk inmates give 1,000 blankets to children who are sick or in foster care. The blankets are paid for with the money generated by concessions and vending machines in the jails.
All of the inmates who met with NBC4 have kids of their own.
Charlene Carter, who is doing time on drug charges, has five kids who’ve all been in foster care, and a few years ago her youngest son got one of these blankets.
“He still has it. He’s 15 now. He saved it all this time,” she said. “When you’re not at home it’s like a security thing. It’s something that’s yours, no one else can take it from you. A gift, warm and comfortable.”
These women rarely see their own kids - and speak to them mostly by phone - so lovingly creating something for another child is the next best thing to caring for their own.
Saffiyyah Salaam is even passing on the tradition to her daughter.
“She asked ‘Mom, can we do the blankets, too, and give it to homeless kids or foster care?’ and I was like ‘yeah!’”
Inmate Diana Avila said the program also helps the inmates feel better.
“It’s kind of like to purge some of the bad you’ve done maybe,” she said.
Guard Diana Valenzuela said the program has even improved her relationship with the inmates.
“Of course, safety is still first,” she said. “But they see us in a different light and we see them in a different light. When we work together for children it brings us all together.”
For Charlene Carter, being a part of the program reminds her there’s still good inside of her.
“Just because we’re incarcerated doesn’t mean we can’t give back to the community,” she said.
And she hopes her kids will be proud that mom is trying to make a change.
“Cause you don’t want them to follow in your footsteps,” she said. “They’re going to see Mom’s doing good things, too, and it will be a real inspiration for them. I hope so.”