Gillette – The three ladies milled around each cabin, engrossed in taking pictures or writing in notebooks.
Over the course of an hour, they see everything from miniature penguins to a reindeer sleigh, a Christmas-inspired Dragon Ball Z, and even some festive “South Park” houses in a winter wonderland.
Within a week, the walls of the Campbell County Jail were transformed into a cheerful Christmas display as inmates prepared to spend the holidays away from family and friends. While not ideal, the 25-plus years of decorating competitions in prisons has provided plenty of ways to collaborate and even showcase artistic talents that otherwise wouldn’t have room in incarceration.
The judges have the difficult task of deciding who will win the pizza of his or her choice on Christmas Eve. Just like a few years ago, it turned out it wasn’t a picnic – the creativity of the artist left the judges spooked.
“Judging is always so difficult,” said volunteer judge Stara Bell. “Every year they do a good job and it’s always different.”
An award-winning section found in Block R shows some deliberate three-dimensional scenes made by prisoners.
“It’s not over yet,” Elijah Anderson yelled to the judges from an upstairs cell on Dec. 16.
Anderson is referring to the 3D stars he makes by intricately linking multiple sheets of paper. It was supposed to fly over the fireplace, but it didn’t quite make it to its final destination. For the competition, the only tools the inmates have are safety scissors, glue and construction paper.
Anderson said he and his friend Willie used the items to bring the scene to life, hoping to show more vibrancy than he expected from the graphic design of other blocks.
“I just thought everyone was going to have a 1-D theme, so we wanted to pop it a little bit more,” Anderson said.
It made enough of an impression to give the block a win thanks to other little extra details, like the door over the fireplace opening to reveal a pile of wood and a box with a gold ring placed under the tree.
“Someone’s planning something,” Bell said, box in hand.
The women of G District have also given creative makeovers to their art displays.
Instead of a wall of art, a SWAT team or reindeer sleigh led by Detention Captain Kevin Theis flies up the stairs. The sleigh falls from the elf to the presents below, to the Christmas tree and fireplace above, with milk and cookies, and wayward elves on the shelves.
The yellow jumpsuit and orange Crocs sandals added for the prisoner add a more realistic feel.
Deanne Sparks’ favorite part of this creation is the poop that the kraft paper rings drop from the reindeer.
“I just thought it was so much fun,” Sparks said. “I love Christmas. I’ve always loved it. (Prison) isn’t where you want to be, but I’ve had a lot of fun working on it. Glad they’ve given us something to do.”
sergeant. Rita Jordan said she’s seen everything from minions to life-size Jack the Skeleton over the years to bearskin “rugs”. Every year is something different, and Nena Bevilaqua, who helped organize the race, said some years she was surprised by the similar themes in all the pods, since prisoners don’t see other scenes until after the race.
Soon, everyone will be reading the “Jailville” poem from the M District, which also catches the attention of the judges.
“Come on vacation, try your leave, come back in violation,” it reads.
The neighborhood also boasts a population marker of 7.5 residents.
The stockings carefully placed by the fire included a “half” resident’s stocking filled with a candy cane. The rest of the socks were filled with coal, some more than others.
Shanowa Callender stands in her room, looking at the stockings with a twinkle in her eye.
“Oh, she’s bad,” she says of the inmate with the most coal in her stocking. “But my baby got a candy cane because she’s sweet and naive about it all.”
The mom-to-be said nearly every inmate on the block was invested in preparing the creative masterpiece — something that’s also evident in A Pod.
There are two blocks inside the pod. One is a Christmas version of Mr. Peanut, shaded and detailed by a working tattoo artist. Beneath this crazy character, a colony of penguins waddles, each with their own unique swagger. The outfits range from a bird wearing DC sneakers to another with chiseled abs.
The adjoining wall is covered with pop-up trees and letters that appear to have been drawn on the wall with a calligraphy pen, with great care.
“Wow. The tree looks three-dimensional, but all the (construction paper) squares are glued together to form a whole,” Baer said.
“I wonder how long it would take to cut out the letters,” added volunteer judge Teiya Campbell.
Time donated to the race is not counted. But it was clear that the last game of the game met again. Talent, intelligence and creativity are displayed in unique ways while also giving everyone something to do while away from home.
“It’s hard for anyone to leave the house this time of year. We just want to give them something to focus on besides being in prison and not being at home,” Bevilaqua said.
While not quite the same as Christmas dinner, hot pizza delivered on Christmas Eve is at least one thing to look forward to.