The halls aren’t decorated with Christmas trees, and the inmates aren’t wrapping presents for their children.
But Bell County Jail inmates will get a special meal Monday to celebrate Christmas, Maj. T.J. Cruz of the Bell County Sheriff’s Department said.
The inmates will be served chicken and rice for lunch on Christmas Day. A peppermint candy will be placed on each tray.
Capt. Byron Shelton, the jail administrator, is working to get inmates special meals for major holidays in 2018, Cruz said.
The Prison Fellowship Angel Tree program is well-utilized by the inmate population, Cruz said. In early November, the inmates were given forms to fill out so the group could purchase a toy for the inmates’ children.
The program has been active with the Bell County Jail for more than 17 years. Coordinated through J.A.I.L. Ministry Inc., the program is for children from birth to 18 years of age who have parents either in the Bell County Jail or in the state or federal prisons.
The ministry serves Belton, Temple, Killeen and the rest of Central Texas and helps offenders, criminal justice professionals, victims and their families. The ministry began on Sept. 10, 1987, under the leadership of Chaplain Harold Ellis and eight volunteers. It became a nonprofit ministry on Feb. 21, 1992. The program is supported through donations from churches, businesses and individuals.
Inmates aren’t allowed presents, but the commissary has online packages that family members may purchase during the holidays to help cheer up those who are in jail. The packages include food items like cookies, potato chips, cereal and candy bars, Cruz said.
The commissary also sells Christmas cards the inmates can buy and mail out to family and friends, Cruz said.
Inmates who qualified were able to attend a concert in the jail on Dec. 16 by a local gospel group, The Divine Messengers. The concert was arranged by Shelton, and the group wouldn’t accept money for their performance.
Central Christian Church and their pastor, the Rev. Paul Appleby, sent Christmas cards to the inmate population. More than 800 cards were sent this year, Cruz said.
Finally, visitation is offered, just like it is daily.
“The numbers are usually high, just as it is on most holidays,” Cruz said.
When Bell County Chief Deputy Chuck Cox was at the jail in 1983 — his first year — a group of ministers brought each inmate an orange and a candy cane. That was before the J.A.I.L. Ministry was formed, Cox said Thursday.