A look at how Iqaluit’s inmates spend Christmas
“Maybe it is a little reflection period”
While serving time is never easy, inmates at Iqaluit’s jails get 10 days of a softer sentence during the Christmas holidays.
At the end of December each year, the jails operate on a special weekend routine that lasts from Dec. 22 until Jan. 2.
“Some of the guys are here for such long periods, it is nice to have some down time,” said Mike Warren, the Baffin Correctional Centre warden. “It is like the self-care that we always talk about as staff here, that we need to take time for ourselves too. So maybe it is a little reflection period.”
At Makigiarvik, the minimum security unit that opened two years ago, a Christmas tree is up in a visiting room that is also used for video-conference court appearances. Christmas lights and glittering garlands are strung up around the security area in the open-concept recreational room that all the cells in the wing open up to.
During the holidays, inmates have the freedom to make phone calls throughout the day. Typically, inmates can only make calls during meals, but for those 10 days around Christmas, they will get more time to call family and more unstructured leisure time due to less scheduled work and programming.
“We are not expecting the men to get up in the morning,” said Warren.
Usually, there are strict routines at the jails, starting with a wake-up call at 7 a.m., followed by an inspection at 8:30 a.m. During the holiday schedule, prisoners will not have either, and instead of breakfast, they get snacks in the morning and a brunch at lunch time.
Additionally, Makigiarvik allows the televisions to stay on later in the evenings on the weekend schedule, because there is no expectation that the inmates will get up early in the morning, Warren said.
“It is a lot more lax at the centre. We find it a much more quiet time here because the men are dealing with being away from communities and loved ones,” Warren said.
“And maybe staff is just a little more laid back.”
Inmates even get gift bags on Christmas from staff, with calling cards and chocolate bars that are not available at the canteen.
Another way things are more lax at the jails over the holidays is by sending inmates home a week or two early, as a “humanitarian gesture.” If someone is scheduled for release at the beginning of January, and they had good behaviour, they might qualify to leave early to spend Christmas in freedom.
However, for those who remain in custody, Henry Coman, Nunavut’s deputy director of corrections, said there is always a balance to strike between having too long or too short of a holiday period at the jails.
“For some guys it is a constant reminder: I am in jail, I’m not with my family. It is hard,” Coman said.
Food preparation offers a sense of community
On Dec. 7 this year, BCC held its annual elders’ feast. With 60 elders, it was the biggest turn-out Warren has seen so far. Inmates made the food and served it to the elders, as a way of giving back to the community.
There will also be a staff appreciation dinner on Dec. 19, where inmates prepare a meal of ribs for those who work in corrections.
For the inmates’ Christmas dinner on Dec. 25, there will be a turkey dinner, with some Arctic char and caribou also on offer. This will also be cooked up by the kitchen crew inmates.
Jerry Ulayuruluk from Igloolik, who is serving time at Makigiarvik for second-degree murder, is on the kitchen crew. He does double shifts in the kitchen because it keeps him busy doing something he likes.
While he is not looking forward to spending Christmas away from home, cooking is a tradition he would have done for his family over the holidays.
“It sucks, I would rather be with my family, but I am doing my time here. It’s going to be fun cooking,” he said.