Christmas gifts

We’re running a bit late with our Christmas packages this year. We are still doing a bit or organizing and one more package will be put in the mail on Monday. That means that the Christmas presents for our children and grandchildren might not all arrive on Christmas day. Our daughter lives in Japan and that is a long way from here and it takes time for the packages to arrive. But they will arrive and there will be plenty of packages on Christmas day for our family, even if a few trickle in over the 12 days of Christmas. We enjoy thinking about, talking about and shopping for gifts for our children and grandchildren. It is fun to think of them, recall where they are in their lives and selecting toys and clothing that are appropriate. In the case of our adult children, we try to think of things that are meaningful and have some lasting value. We don’t want to add to collections of useless items or to clutter in their homes, so we try to be thoughtful and creative when selecting gifts.

On Friday I was with a group of people giving thought to some gifts for teens. The gifts were planned to be nearly identical with a girls’ version and a boys’ version. Other than that, they were all the same. There was a tube of toothpaste, and a small tube of skin cream. There was a bottle of brand name body wash. The girls got shampoo and conditioner. The boys got shampoo and a container of foot powder. There was a small container of deodorant. Each package also had a couple of candy canes, a chocolate bar and a small stuffed animal. The boxes were identical, so the gifts all looked the same, with the only distinction being a small table indicating girl or boy.

These gifts will be the only gifts that these youth, aged 11 to 20, will receive on Christmas Day. They are detainees in a juvenile incarceration facility. Their families are not allowed to bring gifts into the facility. Everything that comes in has to be inspected carefully. A simple thing, like a pencil, can be used to create a permanent tattoo. A piece of wire reinforcing a tail or ear on a stuffed animal can become a needle or a weapon. The amount of calories consumed by the youth is carefully monitored by a professional dietician. It is a place where everyone is treated the same and there are no favors or special treatments.

This weekend, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day have special activities planned. There will be a time for making gingerbread houses, or at least graham cracker houses. There will be a movie night with soda. There is going to be a pizza party. On Christmas Day there will be a special dinner, hot chocolate with marshmallows and the presents. A nacho party is being planned for New Year’s Day.

When you’ve been using generic toothpaste, generic shampoo and other personal care products, having a few products that are yours and that you can keep in your room is a real luxury. The youth are looking forward to their gifts. Some of them have been incarcerated at Christmas before and have an idea of what to expect. Some are unsure of how the holiday will go, but are aware that there is no school. The school in he facility runs the same schedule as the public schools in our town and takes the same vacations.

For some of those youth things in the facility are better than at home. They get regular meals. They have a clean place to sleep. They are warm enough. They get regular time in the gym to exercise. They have school with individualized education plans and small teacher to student ratios. They are protected from violence and abuse. And they will have some special activities and even a gift to mark Christmas. Some of the youth don’t have those things when they are not incarcerated. The staff who work in the facility have stories of youth who tried to stay in the facility for the holiday.

Make no mistake about it. It is no fun to be locked inside of a secure facility and to have no freedom to leave. Although parts of juvenile corrections are a bit less harsh than adult facilities, these kids are in a place that has direct and severe consequences for the decisions the youth have made. Their conversations with others are monitored. They have privacy only when they are in their individual rooms, which are reserved for sleeping and a few personal care activities. They have restricted access to things that most teens take for granted, like television, video games, and other activities. They don’t have cell phones. They are constantly being watched.

But Christmas and other holidays are special days in their schedules. And there will be a present to open, with a few treats and a bit of a surprise inside. There will be a few extra calories and a bit of sweet for them. It won’t look like a party to much of the rest of the folks in our society, but then many people have no idea what goes on inside of the facility. A lot of the members of our community don’t even know where it is located or how many youth there are detained within its walls.

Our children and grandchildren are having an abundance of gifts, especially when we think of all of the children and youth whose Christmases will be much more austere. While we reserve the right, as grandparents, to spoil our grandchildren a bit, we also understand that it is important that we are aware of and in line with the values their parents are teaching. And we want them to grow up knowing that there are others in the world, some of whom are less fortunate than they are.

BBC has a picture of the royal family stirring Christmas pudding for charity. Obviously the photos were staged. The royals are all dressed up and there are no aprons in view. The queen has her handbag on her wrist. But I hope they did get a moment to think of others in this holiday season.

The youth at Western South Dakota Juvenile Services Center won’t be getting any Christmas pudding, but I’ll be thinking of them opening their packages on Christmas Day.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!