New program seeks to brighten holiday for Piscataquis County inmates’ children

By Ernie Clark, Bangor Daily News Staff

Usually the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Office uses the money from returnable cans and bottles in the office to help fund the Drug Abuse Education Program. And usually no accommodation is made for inmates to provide Christmas gifts for their kids.

But with D.A.R.E. canceled by the pandemic, the sheriff’s department decided to use the money to help inmates purchase gifts for their kids.

Under a new program called “Children is for Kids,” Sheriff Bob Young and his staff are enabling inmates currently housed at the Piscataquis County Jail who have children to select a couple of gifts to give to their kids for Christmas.

The program is funded through the collection of returnable bottles and cans at the office throughout the year.

Most of the returnables come from the inmates themselves, who are able to order and purchase candy, chips and soda each week from a local store through the department’s “canteen” program.

“They order a lot of soda and we end up with a whole bunch of returnables and cans,” Chief Deputy Todd Lyford said.

The idea to use the returnables money for the inmate’s children gifts was conceived by Lt. Jamie Kane, the department’s DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer.

“We had been using that money for the D.A.R.E. program, but Lt. Kane knew that due to COVID-19 we wouldn’t be able to do that this year so he came up with this idea,” Lyford said.

“We figured if the inmates are locked up they can’t do anything for their kids, and it’s not the kids’ fault that their parents made the poor choices that ended with them being in our jail. But we figured if we could at least allow the inmates to provide their children with a gift, it might help with some of the stress of the parent being in jail during the holiday weekend.”

The Piscataquis County Jail has an average daily inmate population of 28, Lyford said, and approximately 12 children will receive presents through the Christmas program.

“They [inmates] truly appreciated the gesture,” he said. “We had enough money to provide each child with a couple of presents. We had cards for the older kids, too, but most of our inmates are younger so their kids are younger.”

Inmates with children were able to select the presents and members of the department’s Board of Visitors volunteered to purchase the gifts the inmates chose, which included action figures, dolls and stuffed animals as well as toy trucks and cars.

The inmates then were allowed to wrap the presents and fill out Christmas cards for their kids.

Lyford said the hope is that in future years the children will be able to open the presents in front of their parents at the jail, but because of COVID-19 restrictions this year, arrangements were made for the presents to be picked up at the sheriff’s office or delivered to the home.

“I think it’s a project that will continue, and it really has no cost to the taxpayers,” Lyford said. “It seems to have worked well and is just a small gesture and hopefully it makes the incarcerated parents feel like they’ve got a chance to contribute to their child’s holiday.”

Inmates being held in connection with child abuse cases were not allowed to participate in the program, Lyford said.

Lyford said the sheriff’s office has received numerous donation offers from the public to support the Christmas program, but plans to limit the effort’s scope.

“We truly appreciate all the offers, but we don’t have too many kids and while we want to do a little bit for them, we don’t want to make it such an overwhelming project for our staff,” Lyford said.

“We’re just trying to show that we understand that parents who are in our facility are in there for a reason, but the bond between the parents and the children needs to continue.”

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