December 26, 2010

Incarcerated for Christmas

Youth at Juvenile Correctional Facility still celebrate holidays

By Lindsey Ziliak

— For a number of children in Logansport, there were no presents under the tree this Christmas, and for some, there was no family to share Christmas with either.

Around 100 boys from across the state spent Christmas day at the Logansport Juvenile Correctional Facility.

Superintendent Lori Harshbarger said the holidays can be a difficult time of year for youth who are incarcerated.

“There are kids here who suffer from mental illness and depression. The holidays are especially tough,” she said.

She said the employees at the facility, located on the grounds of Logansport State Hospital, still try to make Christmas special for the kids.

Harshbarger explained that there are people who think these kids shouldn’t receive any special treats or amenities, even during the holidays, because they’ve done something wrong.

“They’ve made some bad decisions, maybe, but they are still juveniles,” she said.

The holiday festivities for the 12- to 18-year-old boys began about a week before Christmas.

“Anytime we have holidays we do special activities,” Harshbarger said.

The boys were allowed to attend special Christmas religious services throughout the week.

“These were optional of course,” Harshbarger said.

These included a Catholic mass for advent and a Christmas carol sing-along at two services.

“There was a Christmas ‘Lessons and Carols’ service on Sunday. Students took turns reading the Christmas Bible verses, and after each we sang the carol that corresponded with the reading. Two students presented an original arrangement of ‘Silent Night’ with guitars,” said Mark Harmon, who works in media relations at the juvenile correctional facility.

Friday they had a small Christmas party at school. Some watched movies. Others played cards and chess. Volunteers brought in cookies and soft drinks.

“We work them hard every day, so this was different,” said John Morphew, who teaches math at the institution.

Throughout the weekend the kids will compete in pool, darts and Wii tournaments. They will be able to play chess and checkers and compete in a “Minute to Win It” challenge.

Some of the kids have to be distracted from the fact that they won’t be seeing their families during the holidays, Harshbarger said.

The facility offers four extra visitation sessions during the holiday season, but not all families will take advantage of the offer.

“For some kids, Christmas is really hard. Their families won’t come to see them. Some of them can’t,” Harshbarger said.

Logansport’s facility takes in kids from all over the state, she said, and some families simply have no way of getting to here to see their relative.

Even the children who get to see their family for Christmas, however, won’t be receiving any gifts from them.

“It’s not like their families can bring them presents,” Harshbarger said.

The only gift families can bring youth in the facility is money to be added to the child’s account, so the he can purchase items from the institution’s store.

Despite all of the things the kids can’t have for Christmas, Harshbarger said everyone does what they can to brighten their spirits during  the holidays.

“We keep them occupied and try to help them enjoy Christmas,” she said.

• Lindsey Ziliak is a staff writer at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5148 or