Christmas behind bars: Staff at prison, jail bring it in where possibleIncarceration can be a particularly difficult punishment at Christmas, but those who keep watch make efforts to bring prisoners a bit of cheer regardless.
By: By Kari Lucin, The Jamestown Sun, The Jamestown Sun
Incarceration can be a particularly difficult punishment at Christmas, but those who keep watch make efforts to bring prisoners a bit of cheer regardless.
“One boy asked me if I’d sit down with him today and light a candle, and pray for his mom,” said Chaplain Mark Haines, who ministers to the 420 men incarcerated at the James River Correctional Center. “So really, there’s a heightened concern for their loved ones, and we just have to be all the more available for that.”
Christmas in prison doesn’t include a lot of frills. There are fire code rules that prevent putting up decorations and there are safety and security rules that preclude some holiday activities.
Prisons are simply not festive, but correctional officers and prison staff try to bring Christmas in when it’s possible.
“We’re very sensitive to it. We have visiting, of course, all day,” said Don Redmann, warden of the JRCC. “That’s really what Christmas is about — it’s family. We do encourage family to come and visit their loved ones.”
Some people have other relatives to visit during the holidays, but many do make an effort to visit family members in prison on or near Christmas.
“The Christmas spirit is not quite the same, but it is — there is a sense of Christmas even in prison,” Redmann said.
Prisoners at JRCC will also enjoy a special holiday meal this year, though it’s nothing extravagant — it’s homemade sub sandwiches.
Prior to Christmas, the staff at JRCC makes sure prisoners can get Christmas cards to send to their friends and families.
Two Christmas programs help inmates send gifts to their children with notes from their incarcerated dads, and the men also often send crocheted caps made by inmates to their children.
Last week, the Streeter Choir performed a cantata for the prisoners, Haines said, and on Christmas morning, Terry Schwartz and Kenneth Frey visit the prison to play fun songs for the prisoners.
“It’s all about giving a bunch of laughs on a day that could likely be a very hard day for them,” Haines said.
The most important thing, though, is just being present for the prisoners.
“You just have to be here more, and be around them more — have the door open more so they can get into there and talk to you,” he said. “… and it’s a blessing for us, because more of them will ask for something at this time of year than at any other time of the year, which is great — that’s what you want them to do.”
Christmas in jail
Most people don’t want to spend Christmas in the Stutsman County Correctional Center either, but there, too, the jail staff tries to make the season a little brighter for their inmates.
The SCCC is an 84-bed facility that can hold men and women for up to a year. As such, its prisoners are there for a shorter period of time.
Inmates will celebrate Christmas with a holiday meal that will include a pork roast with all the trimmings, and Christmas cookies, said Tracey Trapp, jail administrator.
“We have also allowed holiday packages for our inmates that are here over the holidays,” Trapp said, adding the packages can only include items that are allowed in the jail.
On Christmas Eve, volunteers Larry and Robin Phillips will again sing and give a message at the jail for the prisoners. In addition, various church groups make gift packages for the inmates, such as St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, which made care packages specifically for female inmates this year.
“We have volunteers who do a lot for this place throughout the year,” Trapp said, praising the Jamestown community for caring for its inmates.
Christmas is not a visiting day for the SCCC.
“I think whenever a person is away from their family and friends over Christmas, it’s hard, whether you’re incarcerated or not,” Trapp said. “… I think the best thing we have is the good staff, and the staff will be right there with them on Christmas. I think that’s a positive element.”
Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be
reached at 701-952-8453
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