By SHERRY VAN ARSDALL
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Brittney Martinez, 25, of Elkhart, has been an inmate at Elkhart County Jail since Aug. 27 for a DUI charge and won’t be released until February.
“I have an 8-year-old son (Braylin) and that’s going to be the hardest thing, being away from him,” Martinez said. “I’ve been here before for 10 months, but I’ve never been locked up over the holidays and my son’s birthday (in January).”
Even though it’s Thanksgiving Day and traditionally spent with family and friends, enjoying big meals, watching football games or planning shopping strategies for Black Friday, known as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, Martinez won’t have any change in her daily routine.
“Thanksgiving will be another day,” she said. “Everyday is the same. Nothing ever changes.”
Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers said the only change inmates will have to indicate it’s a holiday will be a special menu that’s not typical, which includes turkey gravy with chunks of turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans and pumpkin pie.
“It’s one day in the life of an inmate. The menu changes and in respect for them, they are eternal souls and have feelings,” Sheriff Rogers said. “I don’t treat them as dregs of society. There are good people who made bad mistakes. I like to look at them as being on the road to recovery and restoration rather than destruction. I’m human just like those in jail. They chose a path that they are being held accountable for. I chose a different path.”
The sheriff added that from an inmate’s perspective, there’s no court for the holiday so they’re not being transported anywhere.
“Some of them can create a nice environment (for the holiday), like abide by the rules and do what they are told to do,” he said. “The guards are empathetic to them but we do have to maintain order and security.”
The inmates are allowed visitors from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the jail and movies may be provided depending on the ward and the cooperation of inmates, the sheriff said.
There is also support available for inmates having trouble dealing with a sense of separation from their families during the holidays, according to Mike Kupke, jail chaplain.
“Sometimes the feelings are more intensified here, as well as at home,” Kupke said. “It weighs on people’s minds. As a chaplain, I do individual pastoral counseling and the requests seem to increase at this time of year.”
There are more than 800 ministerial volunteers who lead approximately 100 regular meetings and give support through bible studies, fellowship time and Sunday worship.
“We have our regularly scheduled meetings set up this week, but nothing special planned otherwise,” the chaplain added.
Reasons to be thankful
Martinez said her family will be visiting her for the holiday and it helps to have their support.
“It’s good for us who have family and support systems,” she said. “It’s harder for those who don’t have family. Getting visits is important.”
Martinez said she has plenty to be thankful for even though she’s locked up with no privacy in a corrections facility.
“I’m thankful to wake up and have an out date (release date) and that I won’t be here forever,” she said. “We do get a special lunch and I’m thankful for visits. I am thankful I want to get better and not be bitter, and I am getting help dealing with alcohol. I am missing all the holidays at once. It gives me incentive to not want to come back. I don’t want to miss Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, and my son’s birthday. It’s something I don’t want to miss again.”