Hannah Robbins, 20, criminal justice from Keavy, Seth Henderson, 20, criminal justice major from Berea, Crystal Conley, 27, criminal justice major from Louisville, and Tyler Prewitt, 22, criminal justice major from Corbin, stufed gift bags for residents at Madison Towers. (Marla Marrs)

By Stephanie Collins

Criminal justice students teamed up with women prison inmates to give out blankets, bibs and candy at Madison Towers Monday.

Eastern’s Alpha Phi Sigma Criminal Justice Honor Society and female inmates from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons Federal Medical Center of Lexington collaborated to share with the home’s residents.

The honor society serves on the medical center’s Community Relations Board [CRB], which provides funding and supplies for its female inmates’ use so they can create items to donate throughout the community.  

And when its adviser, Dr. James B. Wells, professor of criminal justice, heard about the work the inmates were doing, he said he decided a Christmas community service project would be an innovative way the society could team up in celebrating Christmas at Madison Towers.

“We did a similar project at a nursing home this past Easter,” said Hannah Robins, 20, criminal justice major and president of the honor society from Keavy. “We chose this location over others because it was more in need.”

Wells had contacted a nurses industry to find out where service could be utilized the most. He was told Madison Towers, the 10-story building across from the Richmond post office, has residents who do not receive one visitor in a year’s time, Robins said.

Despite the cold and rainy weather, students from the society showed up at the government-subsidized section eight housing facility, along with seven inmates, and together they unloaded about a half-dozen boxes filled with multi-colored blankets.

Complete with a “Happy Holidays” card attached, the blankets were a product of the inmate’s free time; they hand-crafted 140 blankets.

Robins said these particular inmates are low-risk and accustomed to being involved in community service.

Inmate Robin Jenero said she thought it was wonderful her group could be involved.

“I love working with the elderly,” Jenero said. “I used to work as a nurse aide. The girls have put a lot of work into this. We worked about seven hours a day on the blankets; we picked the materials, lined them and sewed them.”

The prison had 300 women to choose from for the service project, said Rebecca Brown, FMC counselor.

“We looked for women that were showing exceptional behavior and working hard in the program,” Brown said.

Nearly 50 residents were gathered in a lounge on the bottom floor of Madison Towers and expressed gratitude for the gifts.

Thelma Bourne, 94, said she is the oldest resident and was having trouble seeing her blanket. But as a seamstress, she said she knew the product was of good quality.

“I’m kicking, but not high,” she said, then added seriously while rubbing the fabric between her fingers, “I can tell by how thick the lining is, this is good. I’ll use it to throw over my legs on the couch.”

Ryan Donahue, 26, criminal justice major from Louisville, gave gifts to residents of Madison Towers. (Marla Marrs)