South Bend youth mentoring group drops off Christmas letters for inmates

Published: Dec. 24, 2021 at 6:19 PM EST
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) -Folks all over Michiana are getting ready to celebrate Christmas, and thanks to a group of thoughtful kids in South Bend, even inmates at the St. Joseph County Jail will have something to open tomorrow.

One thing Tinayja Summers says she learned from her mother, the founder of Free Your Wings Youth Mentoring in South Bend, is that you can’t know everything that led to someone’s incarceration, and even though many are serving time for mistakes they made in the past, most of those in the St. Joseph County Jail won’t be behind bars forever.

It’s the time of year when people say it’s better to give than to receive. Tinayja Summers learned that lesson when dropping off hundreds of letters for inmates at the county jail.

“They don’t even get any gifts, so I know it helps them out that we gave them a card saying Merry Christmas,” Tinayja said.

“650 letters to inmates at the St. Joseph County Jail, so for some of them this will be the first letter they’ve received since they’ve been here,” said Free Your Wings founder Aja Ellington in a Facebook video.

The founder of Free Your Wings asked South Bend Riley students to join in on the project called “Locked in our Hearts”. While it’s easy for some to think these inmates only deserve coal for Christmas, Ellington got a totally different response from these teens.

“To speak to all of these youth and them to be like, ‘we don’t know what they went through’ and things like that, and they were all open to writing not only one letter but five letters each, it was just a beautiful thing,” Ellington said.

Here’s a peek at what some of the inmates will read. Words of encouragement like this one that says ‘You can and will accomplish great things. It’s never too late’.

Some will read an inspirational quote from Albert Einstein.

Others will get words of affirmation that they still deserve to be treated like human beings, even though they’re serving a sentence.

“I said happy holidays, Merry Christmas. Don’t let negative energy bring you down,” Tinayja said.

Some letters even hoped to inspire these inmates to make the most of their second chance after their time is up at the jail.

“The mistake can be a lesson, something you can learn from,” Ellington said.

It’s hard to find someone who believes those words more than her.

Ellington shared how much of a difference even these small interactions can make for an inmate. She’s reminded of that whenever she speaks to her twin brother who is spending the rest of his life in prison.

She hopes this also brings more attention to resources that help people who just got out of jail stay out.

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