CALIPATRIA — The Christmas season can be felt all over the Valley, even at the Calipatria State Prison, where inmates and their families got to see each other Saturday in one of the most difficult places where one can feel the holiday spirit.
And yet with the help of the nonprofit The Place 4 Grace, Target and the Imperial County firefighters; the holiday spirit not only was apparent at the prison, it thrived with more than 80 children who got a gift from their family members and a picture with Santa Claus.
“The reason we do this and we allow this, is because it’s evidence proven that inmates that have closer ties with their families tend to behave more and when they do get out tend not to come to prison as often,” said Lt. Jorge Santana.
Programs such as this help reduce recidivism rates and improve inmate behavior, said Santana, who noted that Calipatria State Prison “has a 25 percent recidivism rate, which is the lowest recidivism rate in the state of California for male Level Four.” Level Four is the highest level of prison security.
“We are here to help these families get through these times and make sure that the children never come here,” said Karen McDaniel, founder and executive director of The Place 4 Grace, who has implemented at the prison various programs.
“We want the kids to know that they are loved, and they are cherished, and that they can make choices in their lives that are different,” said McDaniel, who noted that society many times puts the blame of an inmate’s actions on a child.
On Saturday this love in children and the families was evident as many were seen smiling after their visit.
However for some, their visit was a difficult one.
Such was the case of Twentynine Palms resident Typa Davis.
Davis took her daughter Keoni Samuels, 7, to see her father for the first time in four years.
“That’s how difficult it was,” said Davis.
And yet Keoni seemed thrilled about the visit and the event.
“I got to see my daddy and I got a painting book,” said Keoni, who added “I want to see my dad really soon.”
During the event there were those that were visiting uncles and brothers as well, like Fallbrook resident Edwin Diaz and his son.
“We don’t see him so often,” Diaz said of his brother and explained that his family is not very plentiful “so the little family that we have we try to keep it together.”
Still, with the economy the way it is and work, Diaz said, it’s difficult to make that visit, which is why it is important for him to come during the holidays.
Moreover, he said, taking his son Edwin Jr. to visit his uncle helps not only his brother, who was pretty happy to see his nephew; the visit is also a learning experience for his son.
His son learns what will happen if you do something bad, without actually doing it, said Diaz and added his son also learns all the advantages he has in his life.
“Today’s event went pretty well,” said Santana. All the children that came today got a present and a reading book.
And as far as those who criticize allowing these types of services to inmates, Santana said, “It’s not the children’s fault that their dad is in prison. A lot of people may say the inmates don’t deserve this, but the kids do.”
Calipatria State Prison, a maximum security facility, houses some 3,400 inmates. At least half of them are serving life sentences, many without the chance of parole.
Inmates in one yard at the prison weren’t able to participate in this year’s program after a riot and a lockdown earlier this month.
Staff Writer Alejandro Davila can be reached at 760-337-3445 or email@example.com
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