Wyoming Department of Corrections holiday traditions past and present


The items within the Holiday Bag this year.

Wyo4News staff, [email protected] [PRESS RELEASE]

December 15, 2023 — The Wyoming Department of Corrections (WDOC) has a long-standing tradition of holiday celebrations in their institutions. Dating back to the late 1970s, when Duane Shillinger became Warden of the Wyoming State Penitentiary (WSP), WSP had started a few holiday traditions that have integrated into present-day WDOC and its inmates. During Warden Shillinger’s time as warden, he would hand out holiday packages that included socks, underwear, and a pack of tobacco. He also would hand out cigars to ring in the New Year.

One of the fabled traditions that Warden Shillinger did was known as the “Christmas Kickout”. “Christmas Kickout” allowed inmates who were on a form of administrative segregation to be released from their segregation early (which was dependent on their behavior reports). The tradition of “Christmas Kickout” has been rumored as the precursor to a practice that the WDOC implements today, which allows inmates to be released from disciplinary restrictive housing early if they demonstrate good behavior during their sanction.

Over the years, the packages that Warden Shillinger handed out evolved from state property (i.e., clothing items) into what is currently done today, commissary (i.e., “Holiday Bags”). These bags offer items that are normally not available at the commissary. They are approved through the prison division and fit within the guidelines of what items are allowed in the institutions. The companies that normally work with the WDOC for commissary submit their offerings for the Holiday Bag, and the prison division makes the final determination on which bag will be purchased and gifted to the inmates.

This year, the WDOC purchased just under 2,100 Holiday Bags to hand out to inmates. The bags average a cost of $7 per bag, which totals around $14,600. The bags are not purchased from State funds. All Holiday Bags are purchased through the Inmate Assistance Fund, which is funded by inmates’ commissary purchases, phone use, and any fines imposed during the disciplinary process.

The bags that are being distributed include a few different types of cookies, coffee packets, sunflower seeds, four different bags of chips, a few pieces of candy, and powdered drink packets. A change that is occurring this year involves all inmates receiving the same bag. The bags are all Kosher and inmates who have medical predispositions will work with medical staff as a point of education in how to manage their health and implement positive habits.

The WDOC ensures that all inmates ordered to the custody of the WDOC receive a Holiday Bag. This includes inmates placed within the state at county detention centers, and those inmates placed out of state. These bags are packed and shipped to the locations and will be handed out on the same day as the institutions operated by the WDOC.

Beyond the Holiday Bags being given to all the inmates, individual institutions have their own holiday traditions that they participate in. On Christmas Eve, midnight mass is held as well as a service on Christmas Day. The institutions also offer visitation on Christmas Day. All the institutions serve a Christmas Day meal to celebrate the holiday. WSP and the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution (WMCI) have held holiday decorating competitions between the housing units. WMCI, specifically, provides a box with miscellaneous items that the units use to decorate for those holiday housing competitions, and WSP, previously, has had door decorating contests. The Wyoming Women’s Center has also been known to have some of their inmates walk with staff during the holiday bag passing out and sing Christmas carols. The holiday season is always a difficult one for those who are away from their families, which includes our staff, who spend large portions of the holiday season working in our institutions. The WDOC will aim to do our part and continue the long-standing traditions as a way to bring joy during this season and to wish those a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.