Lifers Hold Origami Workshop for Children’s Hospital

By Phoeun You
Graphic Designer

Interfaith Chapel, 15 convicted murderers and lifer inmates came together to fold hundreds of origami hearts for patients at Oakland’s Children’s Hospital.

The inmates’ goal was to uplift the children’s hearts and make them feel loved and not forgotten on Valentine’s Day.

At the end of the origami workshops, hundreds of standup heart–shaped origami were sent to the hospital and placed on the children’s dinner trays on Valentine’s Day. “Just imagining the smiles on the kids’ faces, when they receive the (origami) hearts, makes it all worth it,” said inmate Upu S. Ama.

The origami event was led by volunteer Jun Hamamoto. She first brought origami to San Quentin in 2012 when she asked prisoners to fold cranes in support of global unity and world peace to be placed on the World Tree of Hope. The Rainbow World Fund (RWF) an Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender (LGBT) based humanitarian aid organization and the Japanese community came together to sponsor the World Tree of Hope.

The cranes made were signed with positive messages from inmates and displayed on a giant Christmas tree inside San Francisco’s City Hall.

The success of the first origami workshop inspired Hamamoto to bring the origami movement inside San Quentin.

Since 2012, she has held countless origami sessions involving different groups in San Quentin, such as the Native Hawaiian Spiritual Group, R.O.O.T.S. (Restoring Our Original True Selves), Buddha Dharma Sangha, Kid C.A.T. (Creating Awareness Together), Free to Succeed, the Native American Culture Group and Project REACH. Hamamoto plans to extend an invitation to more groups.

THE ORIGAMI LEGEND As a part of her Japanese heritage, Hamamoto believes that origami is more than an art project.

It can have a spiritual meaning or impact. For example, there is a Japanese legend that if a person folds 1,000 origami cranes he’ll be granted a wish.

During World War II, a little Japanese girl, Sadako Sasaki, contracted cancer from the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima.

The little girl wished to get well from the cancer and thereby attempted to fold 1,000 cranes to get her wish.

Sadako wrote messages on the wings of the cranes, such as; “I will write peace on your wings, and you will fly all over the world.”

Sadako got up to 644 cranes before she passed away. Her classmates and friends completed her task, which inspired the creation of The World Tree of Hope.

For the inmates it was an opportunity to offer support for the children. “I wanted to give back to the kids,” said inmate Adnan Khan. “I understand that receiving something unexpected can uplift a child. It is similar to receiving mail; it brings joy. I hope I can do the same for them.”

During the origami session, the men were asked to wash their hands and be mindful of the kids’ conditions. For instance, no tape or glue were used to make the origami because they were told tape or glue could negatively affect the children’s conditions.

“Not only was the origami made with careful focus, it also required discipline and puts me in a meditative state of mind,” Khan said.

Sharing similar feelings, inmate Nick Lopez said, “When I’m folding origami, it calms my mind. For the few hours that I’m involved, it takes me away from prison. And knowing this goes to the children inspires me to want to do more.”

Harold Meeks, who attended his second origami workshop, said, “In addition to making hearts, we’ve also made butterflies to send home to family and friends. But what’s most meaningful is it’s an opportunity to build on rehabilitation and give back to the community. It is an honor to give and serve someone who is in an unfortunate circumstance.”

San Quentin hearts for Children's Hospital, 2015

San Quentin hearts for Children’s Hospital, 2015


One comment on “Lifers Hold Origami Workshop for Children’s Hospital

  1. Larry Ponder says:

    Looks neat,

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