EAST BATON ROUGE PARISH, LA (WAFB) - Christmas is almost here, but for the inmates of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, Santa Claus came to town early.
Several years ago, the EBR Parish Prison started the Christmas Toy Giveaway program for inmates and their families. "When you look at the inmates that are in dormitories and sitting around, they're sad this time of year," said Warden Dennis Grimes. "They don't get an opportunity to be with their children."
So prison officials found a way to bring children and Christmas gifts to the inmates, but the program is more than merely handing out gifts. It's also about self-improvement. Two months ago, 19 inmates voluntarily enrolled in classes like Second Chance to Recover, Freedom, and a Fresh Start. If the participants didn't violate any rules and graduated from their selected program, they got to spend the day with their children during the Christmas holidays.
Program participant, Aquanetta Bowie, says she jumped at the chance to enroll. "I miss them so much because I'm always around them. I just love it," Bowie said.
Grimes says this program teaches the inmates self-discipline. "It puts them on the track that, 'I have to accomplish this, I have to finish this,'" he said.
Prison officials say all the inmates who enrolled finished the program. For some, several hours of uninterrupted quality time means the world. Another participant, Sara Grafton, says she's made mistakes in life, but opportunities like this allow her to reestablish relationships with her family. "My heart couldn't be fuller," Grafton said. "I'm just so happy right now."
Participant, Tawanna Glasper, says her class required her to be up at 3:30 a.m. every morning for the past two months, but the early rise was worth it. "I'll do anything. I hate being away from them right now," Glasper said. "I love them to death."
Prison officials say they hope this program encourages inmates to rely on their family, faith, and education for future success. "We hope they will see the look on their children's face and understand that, 'I have to do everything that I can to remain a citizen out there and stay crime free,'" Grimes said.