A chance to be Santa from behind bars: Salvation Army gives gift cards to Douglas County inmates

A chance to be Santa from behind bars: Salvation Army gives gift cards to Douglas County inmates
Clayton Morris (World-Herald News Service)

Tavon Spivey never wanted to miss a day from being with his young son, Cassian. But that’s how things will be until Spivey is released from the Douglas County Jail in April.

He won’t be home for Cassian’s upcoming 2nd birthday, Thanksgiving or Christmas after being sentenced to a year in jail for carrying a concealed weapon, but Spivey said he always tries to find the silver lining in a gray cloud.

That’s where the Salvation Army comes in.

For the past 25 years, the Salvation Army’s Toy Lift program has helped make Christmas more special for children of Douglas County inmates. On Friday, the Salvation Army representatives helped inmates make personalized Christmas cards and complete application sheets with their children’s information.

Once that information has been verified, the Salvation Army will send $10 Walmart gift cards with the Christmas cards to the caretakers of the inmates’ children.

Don Winkler, the Salvation Army’s assistant social services director, said he expects to send about 1,000 of the gift cards this year, about as many as in each of the past 15 years.

Spivey saves all the packets from the effective communication classes he takes in jail so he can teach Cassian what he’s learned about communicating more effectively. Spivey said he thinks that his fiancée will use the $10 gift card to buy their son something that has to do with “Finding Dory” or “Batman,” two of Cassian’s favorite things.

Winkler said it’s important for the kids to think that the gift cards are coming from their parents, so he uses his own return address on the envelopes instead of the Salvation Army’s.

“This may be the only connection the parent has with the child in a year,” Winkler said. “If they have a gift in there, it’s better than just writing a note.”

The program is open to any inmate, regardless of his or her offense, as well as those at the Douglas County Youth Center or on work release, Winkler said.

Justine Wall, re-entry programs administrator at the jail, has helped facilitate the Toy Lift program the past few years.

“It’s always tough when you walk into the jail and you see the children sitting out in the lobby,” Wall said. “When the parents come to jail, they’re not the only ones serving time. The kids are serving time as well.”

Corrections officers verify inmates’ information and print mailing addresses, which helps relieve some of the tensions between officers and inmates, Wall said.

Jennifer Lindsay was incarcerated in September on a drug charge, and she said knowing that there are people willing to help provide something for her five children on Christmas is “a gift itself.” She said that she has learned to consider others’ feelings and opinions more through the cognitive renewal class she takes and that she recognizes the opportunity she’s been given to better herself.

“It kills me that I’m in here and not with my family. … But this is like God had a plan, and I’m here for a reason,” Lindsay said.

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