New COVID-19 restrictions will make for a lonely holiday season for many, but it’ll be particularly isolating for people behind bars.
Chantelle Reimer’s fiancé, Tyler Magnus, will spend Christmas in jail, listening over the phone while his kids open presents.
“He’s pretty sad that he won’t be here,” Reimer told Global News. “It’s a family tradition and now it feels like it’s just broken.”
Magnus is one of 158 inmates at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre who have tested positive for COVID-19.
Visitors have not been allowed at Saskatchewan correctional facilities for months.
“They’re literally going to be alone besides whoever they’re with in their units,” Reimer said. “It’s going to be depressing for them.”
Community groups are preparing 1,200 holiday care packages to remind inmates they haven’t been forgotten.
STR8 UP, a gang intervention organization, co-organized the initiative with Inspired Minds, a creative writing program for incarcerated people.
“It makes people hopeful to know that others are thinking about them,” said Stan Tu’Inukuafe, STR8 UP co-founder and outreach worker.
“Even though we can’t be there, this is… a small gesture of support and care we can provide.”
Community members have donated $3,000 to cover the cost of the care packages, which include chocolate, playing card and writing prompts.
Inmates at the Saskatoon, Prince Albert and Pine Grove correctional centres will receive the gifts in the coming weeks.
Inspired Minds co-ordinator Nancy Van Styvendale organized a similar initiative at the start of the pandemic. She said community support for incarcerated people highlights an understanding of the hardships they experience.
“There’s a lot of stereotypes that exist about people who are in jail,” Van Styvendale said.
“The people who are donating to this see beyond those stereotypes and understand the complexity of human beings who are in these systems.”
Van Styvendale said she’s heard from men who were heartened by the reminder that they’re not alone.
“There are folks on the outside who care about them, who are thinking about them, who wish them well during this time and who recognize that it’s a difficult time for them,” she said.
“They’re happy to know that people care.”