The holidays are typically a time to spend with family and friends, so for inmates at the La Plata County Jail, a heightened sense of isolation can lead to dangerous, and at times, violent situations.
“Thanksgiving and Christmas are the most dangerous two days out of the year in any correctional environment,” said Jerry Rodri, the jail’s food service manager. “Think how you would feel being in here instead of at home with your family.”
During the holidays, Rodri said inmates are typically on shorter fuses. Personal problems can be exacerbated. Offenders who are usually obedient to orders can become bad-tempered. And, though rare, the desire to be home can prompt inmates to try to escape.
According to a report at Corrections.com, the threat of increased danger or violence touches both inmates and staff.
“While the holidays are supposed to be a joyous time … the reality does not always mirror the fantasy,” the report says. “For some people, the holiday season is very difficult emotionally. ... Too often, we forget that staff are as vulnerable as offenders to the trials and tribulations of life.”
And so, for the safety of inmates and staff, the La Plata County Jail goes the extra mile on Thanksgiving and Christmas days.
“The best we can do is give them a really decent meal,” Rodri said.
On Monday, the La Plata County Jail started preparing 24 turkeys for the Thanksgiving feast, which, with the jail’s average of 200 inmates, is about one turkey per 10 people. The meal, Rodri said, will include all the fixings, like mashed potatoes and stuffing.
“It is so dangerous, Christmas, Thanksgiving,” he said, “so if they can have nothing else that makes a holiday a holiday, I want them to have decent food.”
Inmates also get a few niceties on holidays they don’t normally get, said Capt. Ed Aber, the jail’s top administrator.
For one, they get to sleep in an extra hour. Breakfast usually starts at 6:20 a.m., which means inmates are up by at least 6 a.m. On Thursday, they’ll be allowed to sleep in until around 7 a.m. if they want to make the 7:20 a.m. breakfast in time.
Thanksgiving and Christmas also are the only two meals out of the year when inmates can get a plate of seconds. And, it’s the only time when they can have soda, which is typically banned.
Aber said jail staff is particularly attentive to look for signs of inmates having a rough time during the holidays. As always, inmates have access to a therapist who visits the jail two times a week.
“That’s typically quicker than you can (see a therapist) on the outside,” he said.
Aber said the dynamics at the jail, in many ways, are a microcosm for the same issues in the outside world.
“We will have people who struggle during the holidays out in our community who don’t have family and friends, and have personal challenges,” he said. “Just like we have in here.”
Rodri said many of the inmates recognize and appreciate the jail staff’s extra effort. After all, whether it’s for work or for a suspected crime, they’re all in the jail together on holidays, spending a lot of time with one another. And it’s not unusual for a sort of bonding to happen.
“It really is a wake-up call, especially for newer deputies,” he said. “These are human beings, flawed human beings, human beings that have made a mistake. But we’re all flawed.”