The News Courier in Athens, Alabama


December 25, 2010

Celebrating holidays in jail, county inmates get into Christmas spirit

— On Christmas Eve morning, Santa Claus paid a visit to the Limestone County Jail.

He may not have come from the North Pole, but Sheriff Mike Blakely wanted to ensure that the more than 200 inmates in his jail felt a little bit of the Christmas spirit.

“Even though they’re not in jail for singing too loud in church, they’re all human beings,” he said. “A lot of the people are here because of drugs, alcohol or other problems. The problems are not beyond their control, but sometimes there’s extenuating circumstances.”

In preparation for the Christmas season, the women in two jail dorms used what resources they had available to decorate their home away from home.

In one dorm, the ladies stuffed old white shirts with paper and empty soda cans to make a snowman. In another, the ladies took labels from Mountain Dew bottles, wrapped them in cardboard rollers and made a Christmas tree, complete with paper ornaments. The inmates used colored candies like Skittles and Starburst to color the ornaments.

Christmas cards lined the railing of a staircase leading to cells on the second level of one cellblock. In another block, an inmate re-wrote “The Night Before Christmas” to make the story more comparable to her circumstances.

Capt. Vanessa Rich, a corrections officer with 27 years of experience with the jail, said she’s been impressed with the creativity displayed by the inmates.

“This year, they’ve got me and the sheriff hanging from the tree, but I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not,” Rich said, referring to homemade ornaments on the tree. “The women always get into Christmas more than the male inmates.”

Last year, the female inmates wrote a song to sing to Blakely and Rich as they came around to drop off gift bags. The bags are filled with candy, a deck of cards, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, a comb and fruit. Each cellblock also gets a couple of new games, usually checkers or dominos.

“(The inmates) are very appreciative because it’s solemn around here at Christmas,” Rich said. “We usually feed them a big breakfast and a Christmas meal.”

Blakely said despite the fact the inmates have all been accused of wrongdoing, they’re always appreciative of his and Rich’s efforts at Christmas.

“We’re responsible for ensuring their well-being while they’re in our care,” he said. “I think they’re usually overwhelmed (by the Christmas gift bags) and 99 percent of them are very appreciative.”

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