The week before Christmas, inmates at the Logan Correctional Center in central Illinois received an early gift of spending a few hours with their children and families inside the gymnasium of the women's prison.
Logan, which is home to more than 1,600 women, sits in Lincoln, Ill., about a three-hour drive from Chicago. On Dec. 17, several Chicago community organizations put together a "Reunification Ride," busing more than 100 children and family members from the city through frigid temperatures and icy roads to see their mothers in prison for a holiday celebration.
The Christmas visit was the latest in a series bringing children to Logan to visit their parents. It began in the spring when Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers/Cabrini Green Legal, Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration and Nehemiah Trinity Rising organized a Mother's Day "Reunification Ride," after state funding was slashed for an earlier family busing program.
Community donors raised money for the buses, new presents for the children and food for the families to enjoy. When the family members arrived at the gymnasium in the late morning, they were showered with kisses and warm hugs by their mothers.
"I'm so excited to see my kids today. They're my pride. They're my joy. They're the reason why I get up every morning, to keep going forward in my life. They're my everything. They're my inspiration." said Shakyla as she sat next to her son.
Once reacquainted, families were able to hold one another, share a meal, play games or read a book together.
"I just miss being there every day, waking up with her right there," said Karena Edwards of her daughter, as she wiped away tears. "It means a lot just to get to spend time with her and with my mom, even though it's only for a few hours."
Edwards has been in prison since 2012, serving a sentence for armed robbery.
As children sprinted around the gymnasium, families played with hula hoops and jumped Double Dutch. Some families took a moment to pose for a photo with their mother and with Santa.
"The best thing I'm asking for Christmas is for my mom to get out of jail," said Keonte Kelly, standing in front of stockings hung on a brick wall, next to his mother, Carmelita Hall. "Because if she's out of jail, then we can live like a happy family."
Hall is serving consecutive sentences of 35 years and 10 years for first-degree murder and armed robbery. Her projected parole date is in 2049.