This Christmas, around 270 inmates will celebrate the holidays in a jail cell at the Madison County Detention Center.
Local churches have been donating plates of cookies and bags of fruit to the inmates to make this time away from their families as easy as possible, said Jailer Doug Thomas. One church donated 300 cards and stamped envelopes that inmates can send to their loved ones.
"Especially at Christmas-time, everybody wants to be with their family — I feel the same way," Thomas said. "I try to do as much as we're allowed. But we can't do a whole lot because they are incarcerated.”
On Thursday, families of inmates can take advantage of a special no-appointment, 20-minute visitation any time between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Regular visitation will still be available on Tuesday (prisoners with last names that start with A-K) and Wednesday (prisoners with last names that start with L-Z), said Katie Tate, the jail's finance coordinator.
The jail kitchen staff plans to write a holiday message with red and green markers on each lunch bag served on Christmas day, Tate said. And some inmates in the past have used the ribbons from their cookie plates to decorate their cells, she said. “They've taped the ribbons to their windows — it's cute.”
A special hot dinner will be served on Christmas day with ham, mashed potatoes and all of the “holiday fixings,” Thomas said. A turkey dinner is served at Thanksgiving every year, as well.
Although some of the inmates handle the holiday well, he said, for some inmates, it can be very depressing.
“I tell my staff to keep an extra eye on some of the inmates at Christmas-time,” Thomas said, in fear that they may hurt themselves. Some feel they have neglected their families because of their incarceration, he said.
“We try to make their holiday the best we can,” the jailer said. “It's something I want to do, and I feel good about doing it.”
Crystal Wylie can be reached at email@example.com or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.