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Churches prepare Christmas packages for SD inmates

Posted: December 21, 2012 8:00 p.m.
Updated: December 21, 2012 8:00 p.m.

This Dec. 7, 2012 photo shows some of the hats that inmates at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, S.D., have knitted.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — More than 3,000 care packages of fudge and Christmas cards will be delivered to the inmates at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, the Yankton Minimum Security Unit and the Mike Durfee State Prison in Springfield on Monday as part of an annual tradition.

For many of the inmates, it's the only present they'll have during the holiday season.

"Some of them don't have very many ties to the outside world anymore, so this is just sort of special. Some of the guys are already thinking about it a couple months ahead of time, wondering if we're going to do them again," said Rev. Steve Moerman of Cornerstone Prison Church at the state penitentiary.

The churches at the prison started offering the packages to inmates back in the 1980s, he said. Starting in October, the churches start planning for the packages. The more than 8,000 fudge pieces are made by a variety of groups and they must follow a strict recipe. Hard candies, packages of peanuts and homemade cards — usually written by students in fifth grade or below — are also included, Moerman said.

"A lot of times the guys at the prison are sort of, you know, the idea of abandoned or cast aside or neglected and in some ways the fudge, though it's simple, is a way of saying that there's people who still care," Moerman said.

Inmate Jeff Howard said he and others are heartened by the gifts. Howard, who is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, has been unrepentant, maintaining his innocence during the more than 30 years he has been in prison. But the Rev. Moerman said that even those who've done the unthinkable deserve love and acknowledgement come Christmas. The gifts are distributed even to non-Christians.

"There is really excitement to get this stuff and guys really appreciate it," Moerman said.

Other inmates get through the holidays knowing they are creating gifts for children outside the prison, said Hope Johnson, the Corrections Program and Contracts Manager at the Department of Corrections.

About 20 inmates at the state penitentiary learn to knit stocking caps throughout the year, and around Christmas, the hats are donated to local agencies to be used as Christmas gifts. More than 2,000 hats and 1,000 mittens are being distributed to different agencies across the state, along with more than 3,000 wooden toys made by inmates using scrap lumber from the prison shops.

"In a roundabout way, we are giving back in the best way we have in prison," Johnson said.


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