She misses piling into the car to scour the neighborhood for the best Christmas lights, cooking traditional Samoan meals with her family and singing with her siblings. But mostly, Fiona misses her sons.
This will be her third Christmas without her 8- and 12-year-old. Fiona will spend the holiday at Women’s Central Jail, but a group of Orange County churches are making sure she can celebrate the season with her family with a simple gesture.
Sixty-two Catholic parishes donated more than 7,000 cards, with paid postage, for inmates to send to their families during the holidays. The program, called Operation Christmas Spirit, has been a mainstay in Orange County’s jails for more than 30 years.
“ Our primary intention is to bring a little dignity to the inmates who before could only receive items from their families, but not give anything back,” said Fred LaPuzza, Restorative Justice Director. “ We found that this gesture makes quite a positive impact on the inmates.” For an inmate like Fiona, it gives her hope.
“ This means more than just a letter,” she said, ducking her face behind long wavy hair to wipe the tears from her cheeks. “ It shows my family that I haven’t forgotten about them and reminds them to not forget about me.”
Fiona picked a card with a puppy wearing a Santa hat for her sons and one with two polar bears kissing under the mistletoe for her parents. While inmates can buy stationery and other cards from the jail’s commissary year round, this program is free to anyone who wants to participate, no matter what religion they practice.
“ It’s really nice for those of us who don’t have money on our books,” Fiona said. Jeffrey, who is incarcerated at the Men’s Central Jail, also is sending two cards to his family — his four children, who range in age from 17 to 31, and his parents.
This will be the fifth Christmas he has spent in jail over his lifetime. Jeffrey currently is finishing out an 18-month sentence. He will be released Jan. 22 and will be on probation for two years.
“ It’s sad to be in here this time of year,” he said. “ But I’m thankful that they do this program and I’m thankful for the staff and deputies here. They have made the daily routine of being in here better.”
The message in the cards he sent to family was simple: “ I love you and I’ll get this right next time,” he said. The things he most enjoyed about this time of year with his family are simple as well: watching “ National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” with his father and seeing his children’s faces when they open his gifts. Although this time around it’s a little easier, Jeffery said, given his quickly approaching release date.
“ I have plans to celebrate Christmas with my youngest daughter by taking her to Harry Potter World,” he said. “ I’m looking forward to that.” For other inmates, like Fiona, the number of Christmases she might spend in jail is unknown because her case has yet to be adjudicated. “ I’m still fighting,” she said.
It gets more difficult with every passing year, but Fiona said she looks forward to a Christmas she can again sing with her family and hug her children.
“ Our kids miss us,” she said of the mothers serving their sentences. “ I didn’t realize what I had until I came here. I regret some of the things I have done. This is my first time here and my last. It’s been a learning experience.”
This article originally appeared on BehindTheBadgeOC.com.