True Grit

By Diane Blankenburg

Mary Harrison recently showed up at Nevada Humane Society with several large bags of crocheted cat beds. They were so beautiful and so appreciated. Imagine my surprise to learn that they were made by men who were part of the Knitty Gritty Kitty Committee at the Northern Nevada Corrections Center in Carson City. Yes, men, yes, inmates, and yes, for cats—crushing many stereotypes at once.

Mary is the Volunteer Program Administrator for the center’s True Grit program where 135 geriatric inmates participate in physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual activities to help with their rehabilitation and re-entry into society. It’s a program supported totally through donations resulting in no extra cost to the state.

The Knitty Gritty Committee was formed as part of this program and is made up of 18 senior men who work 9-11 hours a day on crocheting, knitting, and needle point projects. I was so impressed with this program and the quality of their work that I wanted to know more.

Last week, I visited the facility and observed the inmates in action. A band practiced for a concert, a group of veterans met for a discussion on post-war issues, and the  Knitty Gritty guys were hard at work in a  room filled with supplies, projects in progress, and finished works of art—afghans, berets, scarves, statues, etc.

“I first told them they were all sissies,” said Don, 63 “but now I have been doing it for three years and it is so relaxing.” Bob, 60, has only been part of the Kitty Gritty group for four months and said that he “really enjoys it and it has made a big difference for him.”

Not only are the men committed to their crafts, they are committed to giving back to society. The group donates all of their products to local charitable organizations. Bill, 74, summed up what it meant to him. “My health and spirituality are important to me. This work is meditative, allows me to use my energy with a sense of accomplishment while being in service to others.”

The program has helped prisoners successfully re-enter the community. Since 2005, 91 True Grit participants were released through parole, compassionate release, or completion of sentence.

I was truly inspired by Mary, who very generously and compassionately gives her time to make this program successful, and the Dons, Bobs, and Bills who have taken advantage of a program to make their lives more meaningful, while at the same time giving back to the world. From the staff and, most importantly, the cats of Nevada Humane Society, a big thank you to True Grit and their Knitty Gritty Kitty Committee!

Events that Help Homeless Pets

Adopt Your Favorite Re-PUP-lican or Demo-CAT at Nevada Humane Society. Adult cat and dog adoptions are free. Kittens are $40. All candidates are spayed or neutered,  vaccinated and microchipped. Call 775-856-2000 or come to NHS at 2825 Longley Lane between Rock Blvd. and Mira Loma Dr. in Reno. Open daily for pet adoptions!

Jolly Holly Paws Fundraiser to benefit Shakespeare Animal Fund. November 30, 6pm at Grand Sierra Resort. Silent auction, great food, pet photo contest, and other fun activities. For more info or to buy tickets, call 775-232-7753 or email


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