Dec 082003
 
Authors: Holly Stollsteimer

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

holidays.

“We have a religious day and a non-religious day,” Stolen

said.

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

meal.

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

season.

“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

most.

“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

p.m.

“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

day.

“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

harder.

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