Spending Christmas in Tent City Jail

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- There are thousands of people in Arizona spending Christmas without their families and some would argue that's exactly what they deserve.  But even so, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is trying to make the holidays a little more merry for his inmates.

Arpaio put out a Christmas tree for the first time in his infamous Tent City Jail.  While the decorated tannenbaum is a sign of joy for millions the world over, it’s the giver of mixed emotions for inmates.

“All the Christmas music they play and seeing the lights everywhere and not being able to be with your families - definitely lets you know you made a mistake,” said Derek Halsey, who is in jail for probation violation.

Along with the Christmas tree, the Sheriff’s Office is playing multi-cultural holiday music for the inmates.  They also get a special holiday meal of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. The usual daily fare is peanut butter sandwiches
“It has kind of lifted our spirits.  We all know the songs now,” said Joseph Anders Wilkinson, also in jail for probation violation.

While some might argue inmates don't deserve any Christmas cheer, deputies said there's a reason for compassion during the season.

“People learn from their mistakes and some of the guys are here learning from those mistakes… you can't take Christmas away from them,” said Officer Jeremy Smith of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.

Indeed, spending Christmas in the clink had inmates wanting to move their names off Sheriff Joe’s naughty list.

“Be with my family, start my family, just, be successful... not this jail crap,” said Brandon Smith, a Tent City inmate, talking about what he wants to do after getting out of jail.

“Going to college, want to get an apartment,” said Tobias Hetland, another Tent City inmate who is making post-jail plans.  “I have a kid to take care of.  I don't want him to have a father in and out of jail.”

All the inmates who talked to 3TV said next year they’re going to make sure they’re able to deliver holiday greetings to friends and family in person.

Arpaio said the music isn’t just for the 8,500 inmates, but also for the staff that has to work on Christmas Day.