As a member of the Royal School of Needlework, Tree decided to bring someone from the school into the prison to teach a few inmates some patterns. The prisoners' work came out well; she says she sold one piece to Henry Ford. ("I can't remember which Henry Ford--not the present one," she says mysteriously.) Tree figured this could be a way for prisoners to make cash. For various reasons, though, it took decades for the project to get off the ground.
Flash forward 20 years or so. Lady Tree's program is an official charity. At less than three years old, Fine Cell Work now involves 90 prisoners in eight prisons across the nation. Their work sells at a nice price to design shops, with the bulk of the proceeds going back to the inmates. Needlework has become the hot hobby of the prison circuit, like sea monkeys or Pet Rocks, only tamer.
The whole thing started with Lady Anne Tree, who at 72 doesn't seem a likely influence on prison culture. The daughter of a peer, Tree was a devoted volunteer visitor in the English prisons for 25 years. She became friends with the inmates and listened to their tales of woe. And then, at some point in the '70s, not long before she retired as a volunteer, Tree decided that what her jailed friends really needed was embroidery.
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