Although Christmas is supposed to be a festive time of joy and hope spent with loved ones, for tens of thousands of prison inmates in Ohio, Christmas is just is another day behind bars. One central Ohio group believes it doesn’t have to be that way.
A local non-profit movement continues to make a positive impact on the lives of Ohio’s prison inmate population each year by sending them personalized, handwritten Christmas cards that encourage them to “Continue the Story.”
Over the past several years, central Ohio’s “Continue the Story” movement has personally reached more than 64,700 inmates incarcerated in Ohio’s prison system at Christmastime, one inmate at a time, in hopes of brightening their lives by spreading the Christmas spirit, which is one of joy and hope.
Although it is rapidly growing with hundreds of volunteers throughout the Columbus area, “Continue the Story” was created six years ago after members of the organization became aware of some of the horrors of the modern criminal justice system. Organizers believe a lot of the people who are incarcerated today are essentially good people who have made mistakes
“I believe every single person is worthy of hope and encouragement – no matter their past, no matter their story,” said Jess Kimmel, executive director of the non-profit organization, Continue the Story. “I participate because I’ve seen firsthand what that love and support can do. Ohio inmates often feel isolated and unsupported as they work through their sentence toward reformation.”
Of the estimated 45,000 to 43,000 inmates in Ohio’s prison system, some studies suggest up to 6 percent of them are actually wrongly accused or falsely convicted. Other studies say at least two thirds of today’s prison inmate population are people behind bars because of substance use disorders.
This year, organizers of the movement plan to send out more than 22,000 personalized cards, which is nearly half of Ohio’s prison inmate population. To pay for the cards, however, fundraisers are currently under way and they are taking donations.
“Receiving a Christmas card from ‘The Drop’ with a prayer, some scripture, words of hope or even a silly joke helps to brighten the inmate’s day and shape a new perspective about how their story doesn’t have to end in a prison cell,” Kimmel said.
“Regardless of our past, we all have the ability to write a future that can change the world,” said Mic Mohler one of the movement’s organizers. “Yes, they made mistakes. We all make mistakes. However, we believe everyone deserves love and Christmas joy, and we are dedicated to sending out cards every year to express that.”
Each year heading into the holiday season, organizers start another drive to raise the money necessary to send out all those Christmas cards with words of encouragement and inspiration written by hand for each inmate with their name on the card. Last year, they sent out 21,000 cards. The cost for postage and material exceeded $15,000 last year — all of which came from generous donations from area churches and members of the community, as more and more people learn about the mass mailing and the impact it has on the inmates.
Mohler said that getting personalized mail in places like that is a big deal for inmates, especially during the holidays. Unlike typical mass mailings, in which every card is the same, each Christmas card they send has the inmate’s name and number handwritten on the card with unique and personal messages of hope written by one of the volunteers.
Because each card is personally mailed out the week before Christmas, more than 1,000 area residents and community leaders volunteer their time to participate in the event.
Some members of the group help raise money, others fill out the handwritten cards, and others help coordinate the actual mailing, which everyone notoriously refers to simply as, “the Drop.”
One day, organizers say, they hope to send cards to 100 percent of the inmates in Ohio’s prison system because they believe no one should be left out for Christmas. To make this possible, nevertheless, organizers hope to continue getting the word out as they believe even the harshest convict deserves to hear their messages of hope, which is the true reason for the holiday season.
For more information on Continue the Story, to donate, or to participate in this year’s drop on Dec. 16, go to continuethestory.org.