Families Hug, Exchange Gifts With Inmates at Cedar Creek
December 16, 2015
The many families in the gym/dining hall enjoying the festivities.
LITTLEROCK – The gymnasium at Cedar Creek Corrections Center was somewhat subdued considering more than 100 children were seated at tables, eating sweets. But they were waiting for the main event, eyes glued to the front door.
The room erupted when their dads filed into the room for the annual father-child gift exchange at the prison on Saturday. The children gave a shout and ran to their fathers for long-awaited hugs.
“For me, this is about Christmas,” said Jeffrey Pennick, an inmate at the prison. “I’ve been gone a long time, so this is a way for us to celebrate and for me to give my kids gifts, as opposed to sending money home or having my mom, or their mom, do it for me.”
Pennick’s children, Jashon and Maliyah, hung onto him as his mother, Darlene McDowell, looked on with a smile. “It’s important to me to bring them so they can see their dad and open the gifts that he picked out for them,” she said.
Kim Govreau, a corrections specialist at Cedar Creek, said the annual events are important to help build and maintain family connections. “It’s important for dads to be able to hand their kids something. The kids are missing their dads and the dads are missing their families. Their kids will go back and tell their friends what their dads gave them,” she said.
It also helps keep the facility safe, said Govreau, who has organized the gift exchange at Cedar Creek since 2008. The inmates have to be free of major infractions for three months prior to the event.
Cedar Creek staff and inmates turned the gym into a scene from a Christmas card. There was a big Christmas tree with large bags of gifts underneath, a fireplace with stockings on the mantel, snowflakes hung overhead and festive holiday music played in the backgrund. Cookies, decorated with the assistance of volunteers from World Vision USA, fueled the kids as they ran to arts and craft tables scattered around the room.
Nearly 70 inmates and 122 children attended the exchange in all.
Gifts for the children were all donated through the charitable organizations of the Hombres Motorcycle Club, the Destiny Riders chapter of the Christian Motorcycle Association, the Community Partnership for Transition Services, Correctional Industries, and CeAtl Tonalli, but inmates were able to select the specific gift for their own kids. The families, in turn, brought in one preapproved gift per inmate, including books, CDs and calendars. Volunteers at the event wrapped all the gifts.
Pennick said inmates at the prison look forward to the exchange each year. “Look around and see how happy these guys are, I mean, this is big,” he said. “We’re talking about it prior to the exchange and picking out our gifts. Then afterward the fathers are asking ‘what did you get and did you see this or see that?’ It builds morale.”