Inmates pay tribute to fallen soldiers, bring comfort to families

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Hoosiers have paid a hefty price in recent wars overseas. 159 men and women with Indiana ties have lost their lives fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many of those families find comfort in items they've been presented in memory of their loved ones. 

It's an almost weekly ritual.  Dona and Gene Griffin want to check on their son on the outskirts of Terre Haute.  

"Sometimes Sunday's after church we'll come by," explained Dona. "but always on Veterans Day, Memorial Day, his birthday, Christmas."

Sergeant Dale Griffin died on October 27th, 2009.  Along with six other soldiers, he was killed when their Stryker was hit by a roadside bomb in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Since then they've received pieces of art and pictures, all in memory of Dale. 

There was also a special quilt. 

"It came from their hearts," said Dona.  It was made by complete strangers. 

"It just needs to be done.  And someone needs to recognize them and thank them and this is just our way of giving back," explained Kevin Henry, originally from Indianapolis. 

The quilt is a "thank you" from an unlikely group. 

"I never thought I'd be sewing, period, let alone doing a big specialty quilt," said Mitch Swallows, originally from Edinburgh.  He and Henry are inmates at the maximum security Wabash Correctional Facility in Carlisle, IN. 

Swallow is serving 100 years for attempted murder and rape.  Henry is serving 90 years for kidnapping, robbery and rape.  When they're not their cells, they usually have a foot on the pedal and they're pushing fabric through a sewing machine.

"Even people who has no connection to them whatsoever, no connection to their son or their daughter whatsoever truly appreciates the sacrifice that they have made.  They're not forgotten", said Swallows.

Through a special program called Purposeful Living Units Serve (P.L.U.S.), select inmates at the prison sort and sew,  making all sorts of blankets to be donated, including personalized Memorial Quilts given to the family of every single Hoosier service member killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.   

"So many of us in here have spent most of our lives taking, and if all it takes for us to give a little something back is just a few hours' work, that's nothing", said Henry.

So six months after Dale Griffin's death, his parents were invited to the prison for a special presentation.  

"To see someone like that that's taking their time through this program to allow them to make this kind of difference for people, I think is pretty exceptional", said Dale's father, Gene Griffin. 

"All of us need to feel like we've made a difference.  And I think the men that were involved with this were able to," said Dona.

A difference that helped both the giver and the recipient. 

"That's what we get out of it", explained Kevin, "The satisfaction of knowing that, even for a moment, you provided a little bit of comfort to some mother whose lost a son or daughter."

The Griffins have a special room filled with photos and tokens of appreciation.  

"All of those things daily remind me of Dale and the joy he brought to our lives and I'm thankful for that", said Dona.

Gratitude for fighting and dying for freedom from a group of men who may never experience freedom again.   The prisoners receive no government funds for the quilts.

For more information or to make donations to the WVCF P.L.U.S. Program please contact Tammy Ranard, PO Box 500, Carlisle, IN 47838 or email here.