While many Texoma residents will spend Thanksgiving at home with close friends and family, corrections officers and inmates at the Grayson County Jail won’t be able to. But both groups will still get a taste of Thanksgiving thanks to a long-running tradition.
“Basically, we do the standard Thanksgiving meal,” Lt. Terry Baker of the Grayson County Sheriff’s Office said. “We have the turkey, the dressing, the mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans and cranberry sauce. It’s kind of a home away from home meal since they’re not where they should be. We try to make things a little nicer for them.”
Baker explained that the Grayson County Jail began to celebrate Thanksgiving with an inmate-prepared meal at least 17 years ago. While jail isn’t meant to be a walk in the park, Baker said the holiday season can particularly tough on the inmates. He said the meal is meant to do double duty in that it gives the inmates some sense of normalcy but that it also reminds them of home and motivates them to complete their sentences.
“You know, the holidays can be a tough time for anyone,” Baker said. “And if you’re in jail it can be a really bad time in a really bad place. We give them the meal and hopefully, it helps them get on that track of getting out of here and getting back to their family.”
The jail’s inmate population fluctuates from day to day but generally hovers around 400. And with a hungry corrections staff and seconds available to trustee inmates, GCSO Sgt. Jeremy Pirtle said even more plates have to be filled for the Thanksgiving feast.
“We generally look to feed 550 people,” Pirtle said. “That includes all of the inmates.”
Preparation, Pirtle said, generally begins in early to mid-October and starts with securing the ingredients. Jail staffers stagger their orders so that all the ingredients aren’t dropped off in one huge shipment and the strategy also helps to avoid any last-minute supply shortages with their food service provider.
With all the ingredients collected, it’s then up to the trustee inmates who work the kitchen to make the meal.
“It takes about two days to actually cook it, prep it and have it all ready for lunch on Thanksgiving,” Pirtle said.
Corrections officers and jail staff also contribute to the meal they share. Pirtle said staff members often add sweet treats to the mix.
They’ll come in with cookies, cupcakes and other desserts,” Pirtle said. “That just kind gives the meal a more personal touch.”
Pirtle said officers and other jail employees give up a lot to make sure the inmates are both safe and orderly on holidays. While being on the clock means that they can’t celebrate Thanksgiving in the comfort of their own homes, Pirtle said corrections staff still make the best of their time together.
“In law enforcement, it’s just one of those things where you sign on to work knowing that you’ve got to be there on holidays, nights, weekends and all of that,” Pirtle said. “But as you work with these people, they become your family. Even though you might not be sitting at home with your husband or your wife, your children or whoever, you’re still here with people who are family.”