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Though Jon Moses has spent the past 15 years behind bars, this year was the first of those 15 that he's stuck with a hobby long enough to produce products to sell at the annual North Dakota State Penitentiary Arts and Crafts Sale.

Moses will sell horsehair keychains and hat bands at the sale, which will be open to the public from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Correctional Officer Heather Davis said many prisoners spend time working on crafts and hobbies in their cells during the day. Some make a few things for people they know, some send the items out to be sold through retailers and others save up their goods for the annual sale.

Moses has tried other crafts in the past, but never found one he really liked until he learned about braiding horsehair.

"I never really applied myself," he said. "This I like, though."

Another inmate who had served time in Montana taught Moses how to braid horsehair. The craft is popular at the prison in the state to the west, Moses said.

"There it's like an industry," he said.

The inmate taught Moses how to make the series of knots that form the geometric patterns of the horsehair. In the past six months, Moses has spent about four hours a day putting the skill to work. Prior to that, he tried crocheting, and he also will be selling a few items from that hobby at the sale.

Prisoners will have many items up for sale on Saturday, including leatherwork, beaded ornament covers and pen covers, jewelry, dreamcatchers, scarves and hats.

Though most of the items are traditional arts and crafts, inmate Darl Hehn will be offering elaborate model classic cars made out of toilet paper.

Davis said other inmates can buy the items as gifts for people on the outside, and they were given that opportunity on Thursday night. She said inmate Art Willoughby organizes the sale every year.

She said working on crafts give the inmates something positive to do with their time in prison. Many inmates have jobs within the prison, and others participate in classes and treatment. But that doesn't take up all their time, Davis said.

"Depending on what job you have, you have a lot of free time to kill," Moses said. He works in the gymnasium for one hour a day, while some inmates have eight-hour-a-day jobs at Roughrider Industries.

He spends about two hours on each keychain, while a hat band can take up to a week. He prefers the time working on something constructive to sitting idly in his cell.

Davis said one inmate who is no longer at the prison was known for being quiet. He began crocheting, making hats, blankets and scarves for other people. He became more sociable as he gained pride in what he was doing. "He felt good about himself for the first time in a long time," she said.

Moses believes working on such things is good for inmates. "It helps the peace of mind," he said.

Though he enjoys the work and plans to continue doing it until he's released from prison, Moses doubts he'll do any horsehair work once he's out.

"I'm pretty sure I can find other things to keep me busy," he said.

Inmates get to keep much of the money they make on the crafts, though they pay taxes on their earnings and 25 percent of the profits are placed in a release aid fund so they have money when they get out of prison.

"Most people just reinvest it" in supplies, Moses said about the profits.

The public sale will be in the basement of the Parole and Probation building, which is a brick building located on the west side of the prison yard. Davis said signs will help lead the public to the sale.

(Reach reporter Jenny Michael at 250-8225 or jenny.michael@;bismarcktribune.com.)

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