No turkey for inmates on Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Chief Deputy Billy Lamb, Jail Kitchen Supervisor Angie Thomason and Jail Administrator Jason Williams show one of the hams to be cook for inmates' Thanksgiving Day meal.

Marshall County Jail inmates may not be eating a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving this year, but the ham, vegetables and other fixin's are presented as a worthy substitute by some county leaders.

"We see to it that they get a good meal," says Billy Lamb, chief deputy for the Marshall County Sheriff's Department. "Even though they're incarcerated, they're still fathers and aunts... We want them treated with respect."

Jail Administrator Jason Williams, Kitchen Supervisor Angie Thomason and their crews "do a good job to see that it's carried out," the chief deputy said in the jail kitchen where stainless steel surfaces seemed spotless due to trusty scrubbing.

"They do a lot of the work," Thomason said of the inmates who've earned a privilege to do something useful with their time. "They're good people to work with. They're still human beings. Just because they made a bad decision, it doesn't make them a bad person."

She's got seven hams available to cook for the Thanksgiving Day meal. Each weighs about 43 pounds. It was unclear exactly how many would be prepared this week, but she's got a list of side dishes that go with the honey and brown sugar pit hams with dressing.

There's sweet potato casserole, macaroni and cheese, corn kernels, yeast rolls, 12 ounces of tea for each inmate and peach cobbler, Thomason said.

Sheriff's Department staff, corrections officers and others employed by these institutions led by Sheriff Les Helton do not eat jail food unless there are left overs. That's the policy and usually it's only the overnight dispatchers and other on the late shifts who have some opportunity now and again to taste what inmates eat.

"I'll probably come in here Thanksgiving Day afternoon and help with the supper," Thomason said of her decision t keep tabs on cleanup.

Jails, sheriff's, police and fire departments are staffed 24 hours a day all year long.

"If necessary, I will be working," the chief deputy said. "We won't be short as far as corrections officers or law enforcement officers.

"It'll be the same day or night," Lamb said. "It's business as usual whether it's a holiday, or not."

There will be no special visitation for inmates just because it's Thanksgiving.

Visiting hours at the jail are at 8, 9, 10 and 11 a.m. during Thursday through Sunday. Each inmate gets one hour per week. Trusties get an hour on the weekends through the attorney-client meeting place. Other inmate visitation is by telephone in front of a video monitor.

Inmates stay in a cell block for their visitation through video and telephone connections during a 55-minute call and viewing.

Furloughs are very unusual and not a matter for law enforcement officials. It's a judicial decision. Lamb, Thomason and Williams didn't mention any seasonal releases and at least one of the three jurists serving the 17th Judicial District has been known to deny such requests, indicating how unusual it would be to do so.

"I've never heard of him doing that," Williams said of a judge granting a furlough for an inmate because it's Christmas or Thanksgiving.

The Marshall County Jail has an inmate population that "runs from about 112 to about 137," Williams said. "Somewhere in that area...

"On weekends, we normally have about 20-25 who come in, and that makes the average jump up," he said.

The jail has 286 beds, so there's no crowding.

Williams acknowledged that it's possible, under state law, for the county to house prisoners from other counties and be paid for holding them. That's been a realization at other county jails in South Central Tennessee during recent decades, but it's also an administrative decision on whether the additional responsibility is worth the compensation.

Before the county jail was expanded here, there were 55 beds for inmates.

"And we were running (an average of) 140 in that" space, Williams said. That was "in the 1990s."

Other counties have faced those circumstances. Franklin County had to build more jail cells because of a federal court order in the 1980s.

Thomason's Thanksgiving Day dinner menu was ready for review during a couple of recent visits to the jail kitchen.

Other main courses for diners included: kraut and wieners; tater-tot casserole; broccoli casserole; meatloaf; cheeseburger; pizza, and; spaghetti. Different vegetables are listed each day. There's no choice each day. Inmates may eat the meal prepared, or not.

A typical breakfast menu includes sausage, two eggs, a biscuit with jelly, a cup of grits, three quarter cup of tater circles, a honey bun, milk and orange juice.

Some of the department leaders indicated their ham biscuit breakfast with black coffee isn't as great as what's offered inmates.

They'd also concede that it's consumed in the privacy of their own home or on the run at a country market with friends.