ALFRED, Maine – Many people have plans for special holidays, and that often means time spent with family and other cherished loved ones. When your address is jail, holidays can be complicated and engender sadness.
Events Saturday, December 9, at the York County Jail in Alfred, Maine were designed to bring a little joy to jail residents and to families – in the form of holiday cards hand-painted by some residents in art class that they’ll send to family and friends, or in the case of the jail’s female residents, an opportunity to choose gifts for their children.
“It’s a wonderful thing they’re trying to do; it’s really meaningful,” said resident Nichole, who has a six-year-old daughter.
The gift initiative came about through a collaboration between the York County Jail Board of Visitors and the nearby St. Therese of Lisieux Prison Ministry.
The two entities got together earlier in December and asked the women about the sorts of things they thought their children might like, acquired a selection of gifts – from stuffed animals to bicycles, ice skates to clothing, games, and more – and on Saturday assisted the women choosing items for their youngsters, and helped them wrap the gifts.
Amber picked a doll with long, curly blonde locks for her stepdaughter. Brandi chose a bike for her four-year-old. Adrienne picked up some model train landscape materials for her 14-year-old, who has a train set. Another resident chose a warm jacket for her teenage son.
Board of Visitors member Janet Drew noted that Christmas can be tough for some folks – and tougher for those who are incarcerated.
“The children of incarcerated parents tend to be forgotten children, forgotten by society in general,” said Board of Visitors member Susan Wiswell as she deftly measured and cut festive wrapping paper for the gifts.
“Children deserve a connection with their parents, if possible,” said St. Therese of Lisieux Prison Ministry member Paul Duprey.
York County Sheriff Bill King said initiatives like the collaboration between the Board of Visitors and the parish ministry help foster that connection.
The prison ministry of the Sanford-based St. Therese of Lisieux Parish began through the efforts of the late Father Theodore Letendre and Brother Henry of the Brothers of Christian Instruction, said member John Murphy. Over time, the ministry expanded to help improve residents’ technical skills, write resumes, and more, with a view, said member Bob Carr, to assist residents with job placements and reentry into their communities at their release.
All of Maine’s 15 county jails are required by statute to have a Board of Visitors, who serve three-year terms and inspect the premises, meet with residents, and review jail management, among other duties.
The women wrapped the gifts they’ll give their children – hopefully during an in-person visit scheduled before the Christmas holiday – and if that doesn’t work out for some, volunteers will see that the items are delivered or mailed.
Initiatives like this one, helping nurture the parent-child relationship, could bring additional benefits, said Board of Visitors member Robert McCormack. “It could help the parent in jail know they’ve got to make a change,” he said.
“This is good,” said York County Sheriff’s Deputy Matthew Cummer, on hand for the gift-wrapping event. “I love it.”
As the afternoon wound down, and the gifts were all wrapped and carefully tagged with names, the women prepared to go back to their housing units.
“Thank you for doing this for us; we appreciate it very much,” said resident Renee.
“We’re so grateful,” said Brandi.
King reflected on the event and its intent.
“It’s keeping and maintaining that connection,” between parent and child, the sheriff said. “We don’t incarcerate individuals, we incarcerate families.”
Photo Descriptions: Top Left to Bottom Right
Some York County Jail residents who take part in art class have been painting Christmas cards they’ll send to their families this holiday season.
York County Jail resident Amber wraps a gift for one of her children on Saturday, Dec. 9. The York County Jail Board of Visitors and St. Therese of Lisieux Prison Ministry came together to help provide gifts that female jail residents could choose for their youngsters – an event designed to help maintain the relationship between parent and child.
A York County Jail resident carefully wraps a holiday gift for her child on Saturday, Dec. 9. Being away from family during the holidays can be difficult for all, and so the jail’s Board of Visitors and St. Therese of Lisieux Prison Ministry got together to provide a “shopping day,” where female residents could choose gifts for their children – helping maintain the bond.
Group photo with toys:
York County Jail Board of visitor member Janet Drew, York County Sheriff Bill King, St. Therese of Lisieux Prison Ministry member Bob Carr, BOV member Susan Wiswell, prison ministry members John Murphy and Paul Dupray, York County Deputy Matthew Cummer and chaplain Mabel Liard paused for a photo Saturday, Dec. 9 before female jail residents were brought to the jail community room to choose gifts for their children - helping maintain family bonds during the holiday season, organizers said.
An array of gifts like these ones and many more were among the items female York County Jail residents could choose for their children in a program to help maintain family bonds during the holidays and beyond.