Imagine spending the holidays away from family, friends and
home. For 19,000 Colorado inmates, this has become a reality.
While state penitentiaries provide few changes to their everyday
routines, private correctional facilities and the local detention
center have developed programs for the holidays.
Linda Carroll, spokeswoman for public affairs of the Colorado
Department of Corrections, said most state penitentiaries offer
little change in daily routine. This decision was made based on the
variety of religions in any given prison.
“If you show preference to one religion, you have to do it for
all,” Carroll said.
The inmates are given a different menu on holidays but do not
receive any extra visiting hours or activities.
The holiday meals at most penitentiaries include turkey,
potatoes, salad, bread, vegetables and pie. Inmates are given three
meals a day.
“They eat better than my family does,” Carroll said.
Inmates are only given visiting hours if the holiday lands on a
scheduled visiting day, which does not change for the holidays.
There are 22 prisons in Colorado.
Lori Stolen, programs manager for the Larimer County Detention
Center, said the facility offers a variety of programs for the
“We have a religious day and a non-religious day,” Stolen
The non-religious day includes two magicians, Christmas carols,
pizza and soda. The religious day includes a non-denominational
church worship band, donuts and soda.
The inmates participate in two groups: one in the morning and
one in the afternoon. Programs only allow 60 inmates at one time,
so each group sees the same entertainment and is given the same
Santa Cops also allows inmates to volunteer their time to help
stuff gift bags for children in need.
“It’s just something they can volunteer for to get into the
Christmas spirit,” Stolen said.
Lt. Deb Russell of LCDC said the inmates also see more visits
this time of year. Inmates are allowed four visits per week.
“It’s awfully tough on them because they can’t go home,” Russell
said. “We do a lot to keep their spirits up.”
Inmates are also given donated Christmas cards. They can pick up
to five and send them to their families. The cards come in both
English and Spanish.
Gifts cannot come into the facility for security reasons, so
inmates may only receive a card or money.
Russell said counselors, officers and the detention center staff
keep a better eye on inmates’ mental health during the holiday
“They’re humans just like everyone else,” Stolen said. “They all
have families and wish they could be with them.”
Stolen said there are about 500 inmates in Larimer County this
holiday season. When Stolen began working at LCDC in 1998, she said
there were only about 150.
Benjamin Simco, a former inmate at Huerfano County Correctional
Facility in Walsenburg, said he missed his family and friends the
“I couldn’t be there to hug and kiss them,” Simco said.
During visiting hours, he was allowed a kiss and hug at the
beginning and end of the visit.
Because HCCF is a private facility, Simco said, the prison had
additional activities for inmates.
The facility gave inmates a regular breakfast, followed by a
meal similar to those at all Colorado prisons for lunch and sack
lunches for dinner. On Christmas, inmates were given candy and
stocking stuffers, which included everyday items such as soap and
products for shaving.
The facility also offered various games and contests.
Packages were not allowed from outside the prison, and Simco
said he missed exchanging gifts.
Visitation for HCCF was extended for the holidays. Simco said
usual hours for visitation were Fridays through Sunday at 10 a.m.
and lasted three hours. Visits for holidays were extended until 6
“If a holiday fell on a day outside visiting hours, we got
visitation,” Simco said.
However, the prison followed a policy that only allowed visitors
who were on an inmate’s visitation list.
If an inmate had a family member or friend coming in from out of
town but was not on the list, the inmate had to write a letter to
the dean asking for permission for that person to come on a certain
“I understand (inmates) are there to serve punishment for
various crimes,” Simco said. “For the most part, (the prison staff)
tried to compensate as much as they could.
“You wish you were out there. You wish you were free. With your
family,” he said.
Simco said inmates who had been there more than one holiday
“just took it as another day.” New inmates, he said, took it much