Eighteen years ago, Susan Proctor and two friends had an idea. One friend was good hearted and sensitive toward people that needed a helping hand. The other was an inmate convicted of murder, and she was kind hearted too. They hung out together on visiting days. The two friends who always walked out of the jail at the end of the day wanted to do something at Christmas for the other friend who didn’t, but they were told that the prisoners couldn’t receive gifts. In addition it was difficult for the inmates to have enough money, in a closed system, to afford personal items that they might need.
Mike Spanos, the Sheriff, was approached with the idea of Christmas gifts for all the female prisoners, because they couldn’t just do it for their friend only. The gift bags would have to be limited to personal items like shampoo, toothpaste, and soap, and they would need to be inspected. The process would need to be somewhat hassle free and not disrupt things at the jail. Fortunately, some of the jail staff volunteered to participate and inspect the gift boxes( which is what they were at the time) and place them in front of each jail cell on Christmas morning.
Over the next few years things were ironed out beyond a few hic-ups and bumps in the road. Gift boxes, turned into gift bags, which were later decorated each year by our own elementary school kids. The approved list of items for prisoners was refined to what we have today, and the men prisoners were also included in the gift giving process so as not to be left out. The community became involved by contributing items on the gift list which were purchased by them at Day’s Supermarket and King’s Variety store and then placing them in the donation barrels. Other friends pitched in by collecting and storing all the stuff, by making fudge, by contributing beautiful photo cards and envelopes, and by coming together a couple of nights before Christmas to assemble all the gift bags to be given to the inmates.
Each year after Christmas we receive back from the prisoner’s thank you cards in the mail with some thoughtful expressions of what it’s like for them to be remembered by a small community of strangers at a time when they otherwise would have felt forgotten.
We are sad to announce that Susan Proctor died a few months ago from pancreatic cancer. She would have liked to have seen this idea make its way to “twenty years”. However, she would not have liked this article even mentioning her name or any association with this effort. She preferred to fly under the radar.
Never the less, at the risk of her disapproval we are going to kick off this 18th year of the Prison Christmas Project as a legacy memorial to her unselfish efforts on behalf of people she never knew, but loved anyway. Beyond that, we are confident that she will yet see from her lofty position, the achieving benchmark of that forthcoming 20 years in service, and maybe even more, beyond.
For those of us who need Angels close by our sides to encourage us, and to inspire us, and to protect us, it will be comforting to realize that Susan is there. When Mother Teresa was asked how she could have accomplished so much in her lifetime for all those tens of thousands of people that she helped, she said,
“I only helped one person thousands of times.”
Please come and help us again this year and make it a year to remember. Our donation barrels are in place at Day’s Market and King’s Variety Store. Tear off a gift list, buy something from the list in whatever amount you desire, tie it up in a bag and drop it in the barrel. And remember, a few days before Christmas we will get together at the Search and Rescue building to put the gift bags together for the prisoners. Date and time will be announced later. No metal or glass, no aerosol containers. Cash donations will be gladly accepted and can be made at Zion’s Bank to the “Prison Christmas Project” account. All proceeds go directly to the project and are used only to fill shortages.
P.S. Sue’s friend in jail was released and set free after a retrial of her case found that she had been incarcerated for 17 years on “insufficient evidence.