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Christmas Comes Early for Jail Inmates
By Debbie Lowe, Staff Writer

Carroll County Jail inmates received an unexpected treat Dec. 11, just in time for the holidays. A new program was introduced that provided goodies and treats, along with some toiletries, to all of the jail population.

Christmas Behind Bars is a Christ-centered ministry focused on bringing the gospel to inmates during the Christmas season. The program promotes the hope inmates will learn there is a different way than turning to crime to cope with their problems.

Sheriff Tony Burns said Thursday this was the first year for the program at the local jail. He said he was contacted by the program representatives Dec. 5 for permission to enter the jail and give gifts. Burns said he researched the organization with the Howard and Boone counties sheriffs and received positive recommendations from both.

“This was good for our inmates,” Burns said. “It is the holiday season which can be kind of depressing for people sitting in jail.”

“Some of our inmates are indigent and cannot afford many of the items given to them by the Christmas Behind Bars program,” he continued. “I hope the program will return next year.”

Program coodinator Lemuel Vega said the goal is to add two county jails to the give-a-way every year. He said Carroll County has been on the group’s “radar” for two years and it came together for them this year.

Vega said he began the group 12 years ago after being released from prison and becoming a Christian. He said he initially sold groceries door-to-door for Amish farmers in the northern part of the state. When grocery items were leftover, they were donated to the local county jail.

“It just grew from there,” he said.

Vega said 80 percent of the inmates return to jail within three years. Christmas Behind Bars receives no taxpayer money, relying instead on private funding and his program is designed to help inmates “change their hearts.”

“God is using His people to make this happen.”

Gift bag items included candy bars, milk chocolate, beef jerky, Kleenex, drink mixes, cookies, and some toiletries. Burs said along with the gifts, faith-based information was available to the prisoners. He said they were not in any way forced to take the resource material and it was not presented to anyone who did not want it.

“I received no negative comments from the prisoners about this,” Burns said. “In fact, I received thank-you notes from nearly half of the jail population.”

During the holiday season we all need to reach out and help those in need,” Burns concluded. “This was something I could do for the inmates to give them some Christmas cheer.”

Christmas Behind Bars can be found on the internet at www.ChristmasBehindBars.com. Donations can be made by visiting the website or mailing checks to PO Box 474, Bluffton, IN 46714. For further information Vega can be reached by email at contact@ChristmasBehindBars.com or by telephone at (260) 824-3182.

Taken from the Carroll County Comet, Wednesday December 24, 2008; Volume 34.

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