Inmates make something to salute
06/15/10
The Capital - Online

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On Flag Day, state prison offers a peek at its women's flag line

The fabric of American life is not always made from perfect cloth or stitched together under ideal circumstances.

Ryan Justin Fox — The Capital Inmates on the “flag line” at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup stitch together Maryland state flags. The flag line has made U.S. and state flags for 70 years, most of them for state buildings.

The same can be said for many of the flags that fly prominently around the state.

The Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup opened its doors yesterday in honor of Flag Day for the media. The flag-sewing operation is responsible for many of the banners flying over Maryland - such as the giant flags flying over Fort McHenry in Baltimore.

"I definitely appreciate the flags more now and what they represent," said Donna Cericole, a 48-year-old woman from Elkton who is in the first year of a five-year sentence for forgery.

Before she started working on the prison "flag line," flags were just something people flew on July Fourth or special occasions.

But helping sew flags has given her a new appreciation for the flag and the people who have stood for what it represents - such as her late father-in-law, an Army veteran of several wars.

"It makes me think of the stories (her father-in-law) would tell me. It makes me think of the men that are fighting for this country," she said.

Flag Day marks the day in 1777 that the Continental Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes as the official flag for the fledgling United States. For the past 70 years, Maryland prisons have produced flags for the state and private businesses, according to state officials.

The flag line consists of about a dozen inmates who together make U.S. and Maryland flags, as well as pennants and banners for many state government agencies.

"We pretty much do everything," said Orville Dunnock, the prison's sewing plant manager.

Inmates working the flag line can earn as much as $5 per day, making it one of the highest-paying jobs an inmate can have.

A typical workday on the flag line begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends around 2 p.m., Dunnock said. Each flag is hand-stitched and meets federal standards.

"I enjoy it immensely. I'm still working. I don't have to ask my family for money," said Rozene Smith, 44, from Hagerstown.

Smith is nine years into a 15-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute narcotics. Working on the flag line for the past eight years has given her credit for a possible early release in 2011.

"It's very rewarding. It's patriotic," she said.

Inmates can breeze through U.S. flags, officials said. Just last week, inmates completed an order of 50 flags.

But the intricate, English-inspired design of Maryland's flag is a little more tedious to stitch together, inmates on the flag line said. The flag line can produce nearly 700 flags a year, which are then sold to different agencies and businesses.

The flag line generated nearly $35,000 in revenue last year, state officials said.

Almost all of the flags waving over state institutions were made by the women incarcerated at Jessup, state officials said. Two of the biggest flags ever produced by the sewing plant at the women's facility, a 28-by-42-foot flag and a 20-by-30-footer, fly over Fort McHenry.

The British bombardment of the fort in 1814 inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner," which later became the national anthem. The flag he saw "by the dawn's early light" was sewn by Maryland women: Baltimore flag maker Mary Pickersgill, her daughter Caroline and assistants.

The flags "had so many people, so many hands in it. Everyone had to do the right thing," said Diane Paulero, 52,