An unexpected Christmas present from unlikely place

Published 10:58 am Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Saturday I received what will surely be one of the best Christmas presents of my life. That says a lot because I’ve been fortunate to receive some great gifts over the years from family and friends — I’m still waiting on that new sports car though.

This past weekend, I attended a Christmas party on the death row at Donaldson Correctional Facility in Jefferson County. As strange as it may sound, it’s something I look forward to every year as the holidays approach.

It’s a good time of fellowship and singing — it’s easy to forget you are in a maximum-security prison instead of a family get-together.  I’d be lying if I said the food wasn’t a major draw too.

Email newsletter signup

We bring in breakfast with us — omelets, scrambled eggs, grits, sausage, bacon, fried bologna, biscuits and more. It’s definitely the best breakfast the inmates get all year, and me too probably.

That’s followed by a Christmas dinner with turkey, dressings and more sides and desserts than I can name. It’s a feast as fine as any you will find anywhere.

Due to some confusion and other issues that came up unexpectedly, we were not able to serve breakfast and lunch at this year’s Christmas party for the first time in 19 years.

I was only 10 years old then, so I was obviously not visiting death row. However, there are inmates who have been on death row since that first Christmas party.

Disappointment isn’t strong enough a word to describe the feeling when the inmates and the volunteer team learned we weren’t going to be able to have food this year.

We were all bummed and a little angry about the news. The time around the table is a huge part of our ministry, and the letdown of not having that experience this year was hard to shake. However, rather than let the situation get them down, the inmates decided to pool what little they had and surprise us by turning the tables and cooking a meal for us. The most fortunate of them received Christmas care packages from family with some food and toiletry items that have to last them for months — though many of their families can’t afford to send anything.

They decided as a group to come together and cook what they did have.

That microwaved Dinty Moore over white rice and Easy Mac and Cheese was among the most filling meals I’ve ever had and one I will certainly never forget.

It’s hard to understand, but these men, all condemed to die for their transgressions, found it in their hearts to literally share with us everything they have.

Isn’t that was Christmas is all about, a celebration of an incredible act of love and giving?

The Averettes will get together Thursday and open what I’m sure will be a mountain of gifts under the tree.  But it’s hard to imagine a bigger blessing than the one I’ve already received.

Merry Christmas!