Christmas behind bars: Inmates talk about spending the holidays in jail
by Madasyn Czebiniak
Dec 21, 2013 | 5634 views |  0 comments | 67 67 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In an image taken earlier this month prior to her release Friday on bond, Billie Dawn Robertson reaches toward the hand of Anne Bradshaw (right), assistant chaplain at Calhoun County Jail. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
In an image taken earlier this month prior to her release Friday on bond, Billie Dawn Robertson reaches toward the hand of Anne Bradshaw (right), assistant chaplain at Calhoun County Jail. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
“It’s hard because all you want to do is be at home,” former Calhoun County Jail inmate Billie Dawn Robertson said earlier this month, telling a reporter what it was like to spend Christmas in jail.

She’d been there before, and in mid-December it looked like she was going to be there again.

Friday, though, she was released into a community corrections program, likely bringing a happier Christmas season for her and her three children, ages 11, 13 and 14.

But before that turn of events, she still knew how much the holiday meant.

“When you’re here and not there ... life is really taken for granted, you know? Christmas time and stuff, all those things like buying the kid’s presents, being stressed out and cooking and cleaning ... you take all that into consideration here,” Robertson said.

Sheriff Larry Amerson said this past Wednesday it’s hard to tell whether inmates in jail then would still be there on Christmas. Depending on what they were arrested for, some of the inmates could have the ability to be released on bond or into community corrections programs, as Robertson was Friday.

“It boils down to the nature of their charge,” he said. “But in general at this time of year folks who can get out have gotten out.”

Three hundred eighty-six inmates were in the jail this past Wednesday night, according to records.

Prior to being released, Robertson, a soft-spoken woman with deep hazel eyes and a sad smile, was in jail for violating her probation. Three years ago, she used fake checks. Five months ago, when it was hard for her to find a job, she used them again.

“When I came in here the first time, I was on opiates real bad. This time I didn’t really have an excuse,” she said.

A current prisoner said that her own case was one of being with the wrong people at the wrong time.

“It was April 13, 2011,” Estela Reglado-islas, a 34-year-old mother of three from Chamblee, Ga., said. “I’m never going to forget this day.”

Two years ago Reglado-islas gave a friend a ride from Georgia to Alabama. When they got to Oxford, her friend met up with another person who was in possession of drugs. Reglado-islas said she didn’t have any drugs on her when the police showed up, but she was still arrested for trafficking.

“My case is not real easy because being in the same place where somebody else had drugs…it’s a little bit damning,” she said.

Reglado-islas, who hasn’t seen her children since she’s been in jail, said every day for her is hard, but the holidays are even harder.

“I used to talk to them every week, every Sunday. But I never see my kids,” she said tearfully. “It’s, oh my God, it’s real, real hard, especially in this place. It’s real hard it’s ... I don’t know how to explain it.”

Anne Bradshaw, a volunteer chaplain with the Calhoun County Jail, said she thinks the inmates have a difficult time during the holidays because they know what the outside world is like, and want the dream of what life should be.

“There’s just something about Christmas, and they’re not at home. They’re not with their children. They’re not doing Santa Claus. They can’t look outside and see the sky or breathe the air or go to church if they want to,” she said.

Those with the Calhoun County Jail ministry plan to do a few things to make the holidays easier for the inmates. Bradshaw said they will have caroling and each inmate will get a pre-stamped Christmas card to send home.

Reglado-islas is looking forward to sending a card to her children.

“I got real good memories about my babies,” she said. “Every day spent with my kids is good memories for me.”

Asked by a reporter if she thinks there is anything good about spending the holidays in jail, Reglado-islas said those involved with the jail ministry make her appreciate little things.

“The people in the church like Pastor Green, Miss Anne, they just come in here and it’s a blessing for everybody. Especially for me, I feel it’s a blessing, because they come in and show us love and give us love. We’re going to have good holidays in the jail,” she said.

Robertson said the holidays have different effects on different people.

“Everybody is going through something, and once you hit the holidays a lot of people get depressed. Some people cry, some people don’t. You can tell they’re hurting but they don’t want to show it, you know? Different personalities, attitudes all come out,” she said.

While some inmates are depressed to be in jail for the holidays, twins Antonio and Anthony Phillips, 35, say they feel blessed.

“I get sad a lot but not like most people back there,” Phillips said. “For every negative you look at in this jail there are a million positives. I don’t see why I’m so special to be brought three meals a day. I feel like a king in here.”

Antonio Phillips said he felt the same.

“It’s a blessing to be in a place like this at this time of the year because some people don’t have homes and families to go to for Christmas,” he said.

Both brothers are in jail for not paying child support. They said they’re sad to not be with their children for the holidays, but it won’t be long before they’re with them again.

“There’s a time when you need to man-up and take responsibility for things,” Antonio Phillips, who was arrested on Feb. 11, said. He showed off the tops of his hands, each with a tattoo saying “Alexis” and “Anynia” — his daughters’ names. “It could be a lot worse than this.”

Anthony Phillips, who turned himself in on June 1, said he felt selfish for not taking care of his kids, and is deserving of his punishment.

“I was telling my kids I loved them but I never supported them like I should,” he said. He’s looking forward to spending lots of years ahead with them — especially with his 9-year-old adopted son, whom he calls Doodle, who has cerebral palsy.

“He’s really the reason I came down here and turned myself in. He’s not my real son, but he’s my son. I miss him more than anything,” he said.

Asked by a reporter what she wants to do when she gets out of jail, Reglado-islas said “Be with my kids and just forget this ever happened in my life.”

Staff writer Madasyn Czebiniak: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @MCzebiniak_Star.

Editor's note: This story has been modified to correct the method of Billie Dawn Robertson's release, and to correct the age of her eldest child. Robertson was released into the custody of the Calhoun County Community Punishment and Corrections Authority. Her oldest child is 14.

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