- Associated Press - Thursday, December 25, 2014

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) - Christmas behind bars comes with little of the typical holiday cheer.

Yet, staff members at the St. Cloud prison have worked to make the holidays a little better for inmates, many of whom are spending Christmas apart from their family and friends for the first time, Warden Collin Gau said. They’re handing out gift bags with candy and snacks, arranging religious services and hosting special holiday meals. Those who attend a church service get extra gifts - a pen, pad of paper, a calendar and a planner.

“For these men having everything stripped away, these items are precious,” Chaplain Bill Dornbush told the St. Cloud Times (http://on.sctimes.com/1AZ0nf8 ). “It’s like gold to them.”

Many of the inmates at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-St. Cloud have been recently convicted, as the facility is a starting point for up to 400 convicts each month before they’re moved to other facilities.

Though some inmates reach out to family, Dornbush said it’s a mostly solemn time.

“That’s the significance of the holiday season - you’re with family. They don’t have that,” he said.

The prison cut meals back from three daily to two for Christmas, but switched up the dinner menu - usually hot dogs or stew - to chicken breast with rice pilaf and cherry cheesecake.

Gau and Dornbush said they know the inmates have committed crimes, but that the special Christmas treats are part of their goal to rehabilitate offenders and return them to society.

“It’s a time of intense separation for offenders,” Gau said. “They did something to bring them here, but while they are here our job is to work with them, treat them with respect and make sure they stay healthy and eventually be released.”

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Information from: St. Cloud Times, http://www.sctimes.com

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