PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) — From deep inside Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, a group of inmates has devised a way to comfort traumatized children.
The prisoners spend part of each day making stuffed frogs that eventually go into Umatilla County Sheriff's Office patrol cars. The officers use the faux frogs at domestic violence scenes or other situations where children are in distress.
Kermit would approve.
Though the prison hasn't made a formal delivery yet to the sheriff's office, one frog has already done its job. Solo Reserve Deputy Dave Shotts, also a threat management counselor at the prison, had a prototype frog in his patrol car's trunk when he was called to a domestic violence situation. At the home, he encountered a frightened child.
"She was terrified — her mom was going to jail," he said.
He remembered the frog in his trunk, pulled it out and gave it to the young girl.
"She clung to it," Shotts said. "It was a calming influence."
Days later, at the site of January's fatal bus crash near Dead Man Pass, the officer wished he had more frogs to give to the youngest accident victims. He is eager to stock up on stuffed animals, which will help "make a good memory during a bad situation."
Inmate Justin Sol understands. He recalled being separated from his parents as a young boy and having an officer at the scene give him a teddy bear. His stress eased up despite his terror. The gesture made him realize the officer wasn't a bad guy, that maybe he was just doing his job.
Sol, 26, bent over an ancient Sears Kenmore sewing machine and used a zig-zag stitch to sew frog eyeballs, his long black hair braided. He called the frog squad "a well-oiled machine." Sols specializes in making and attaching eyeballs, some of which he sews on cross-eyed. He said the work makes him feel that he is contributing something valuable.
"To be able to make something to comfort a little kid is important and meaningful," Sol said.
The men came up with the frog design over a couple weeks of experimentation. Inmate William Haynes said the design evolved over a couple of weeks' time.