A Christmas holiday — on the inside
When you're serving time in the Olmsted County Adult Detention Center, Christmas is no different than any other day, except there's no mail and no time in the gym.
As they always do, detainees wear bright-orange rubber sandals and fading jumpsuits.
"You can tell it wears on the guys," said Alec Southwick, 25, of Rochester, who was convicted Monday of multiple felony drug crimes and was sentenced to concurrent prison terms of 15, 33 and 48 months. "They've got kids and stuff."
Three detainees chosen by Detention Deputy Rick Trogstad spoke Thursday about what it's like to be in jail on Christmas Day.
Southwick and a group of other detainees got to cook together on Christmas Eve.
"We sat down, and we all talked," said Southwick, who was arrested in April for selling heroin and meth.
"We made jailhouse burritos," Ramirez said. "They were wonderful."
Southwick will be in prison until 2018.
"It's difficult. It's kind of rough. I haven't seen my kids for, going on about a year now. I haven't been to a family function in probably two," he said.
One of his grandparents has gotten a pacemaker, and the other had a stroke, and he said he worries about them.
"My mom, she's coming to see me today, which is pretty cool," Southwick said on Christmas morning at the Detention Center, which has a capacity of 202 beds, with 16 dedicated for women.
Melissa Eslinger, 36, of Rochester, is in jail awaiting her next court appearance on second-degree drug possession and sales charges. She's hoping to get sent to treatment, instead of more jail time.
"Coming to jail saved my life," Eslinger said. "It's too bad that something like this has to happen to wake you up and realize how intense and horrible your situation is."
After being clean for 60 days in jail, she has her mind set on staying that way.
"I want to be alive and be with my family next Christmas," she said, adding that she's realized how much her drug use has hurt her family.
Incarcerated women who have children "think about our kids opening up presents on Christmas morning — and not being there."
Domingo Ramirez, 30, of Rochester, was convicted in 2012 of first-degree burglary and sentenced to 57 months in prison. He was released and is back in jail, awaiting his next appearance on a first-degree controlled substance crimes.
Ramirez said he's a skilled mason and will be able to find work when he finishes his sentence. But on Christmas, he was thinking of his daughter, who he speaks with occasionally on the telephone. "Oh, my God; she's wicked-smart," he said.
"I want to give up this entire life. I don't want to be called 'drug dealer,' 'convict,' inmate 2-0-0-1..." he says, rattling off his jail number. "I want to be called a good dad, husband, father, a good worker."
He dreams of life after getting out of jail. For the time being, though, there are actually positives about being incarcerated.
"My mother doesn't have to worry," Ramirez said, "because at least she knows I'm alive."
Southwick, who has a brother in prison, said he wishes he could be present for his two sons, who both turn 5 this year and live with their mothers. He also wishes he could spend time with his daughter, who will turn 4 in August.
"You don't get those years back … my boy was my best friend before I lost custody," he said.
Southwick communicates with the kids by mail, recently receiving an outline of his child's hand made into a turkey drawing at Thanksgiving. He marveled at how big that hand is getting while he's away from his kids.
If he could speak with his family, he said he would tell them "Merry Christmas. I love you all. I'm hoping to kick this. I'll be there soon."
Staff at the Detention Center, like detainees, are separated from loved ones on the holiday.
"It really does affect you when it comes to the holidays," said Trogstad, a veteran who was deployed many times during the holidays. Retired from the military, Trogstad typically works the Christmas shift at the Adult Detention Center at the corner of Fourth Street Southwest and Third Avenue in Rochester.
Eslinger said she thinks of her kids every day, and the holidays are especially difficult.
"I love them, and I think about them all the time. My two kids, there's not a minute of any day that goes by that I don't think of you — and I'm sorry," she said.