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JEROME — The warm aroma of ham and baked potatoes fills the kitchen, and frequent laughter cuts through the air. It’s Dec. 25, and spirits are high.

Four men in orange-striped jumpsuits stand at the counter, passing trays down the line. A slice of carved meat. One whole potato. Green beans. A scoop of yams.

The process repeats 85 times, enough to fill the stomachs of every man and woman inside the Jerome County Jail.

“It’s a Christmas feast!” announces one of the kitchen workers, half-jokingly. “If we got this every day, we’d be in heaven.”

“It is nice, though, every year,” another adds, as he drops a potato onto a tray.

“Not saying that I come here a lot,” he laughs. “I just got great timing.”

The guards

A plastic baggie full of tree-shaped cookies sits on the counter beside Deputy Brad Sawyer, illuminated by the soft glow of futuristic screens lighting the dark control room.

He’s been here since 6 a.m., and won’t leave until 6 o’clock in the evening. His big plans when he gets home? To get some sleep.

Sawyer doesn’t mind working the holiday. He already celebrated with his family on Christmas Eve.

Sgt. Tasha Goodwin will do the same on Tuesday.

“It’s what I signed up for, knowing that in this career I’m going to be working holidays, weekends, nights,” she says with a shrug. “If I ever feel down, I just remember how excited I was when I got offered a job, and how lucky and grateful I am to be here. And I try to hold onto that.”

The inmates

This isn’t Laura Yinquez’s first holiday in jail. But it’s one of the better ones so far.

“I’ve been in and out of jail for a few years now, which isn’t something I’m proud of,” she says. “Christmas is hard in jail, I guess. But this is probably the best place I’ve been.”

There have been hints of the holiday in the air this weekend, Laura and her friend Kathy say. Christmas Eve was observed with a church service and free candy canes. And, as a holiday gift, each prisoner has been given two free phone calls to his or her family.

At 6 a.m. Christmas morning, as Sawyer and Goodwin were arriving for their shifts, Laura called her two children.

“I was like, wake Grandma and Grandpa up so you can open presents!” she recalls with a wistful chuckle.

On a typical Christmas, Kathy says, she’d be in the kitchen right about now, cooking for “everybody.”

Instead, she and Laura will eat their meal of ham, potatoes, green beans, yams, and sour cream — the sour cream is important, Laura notes — and then work a five-hour shift in the laundry room.

“Working we kind of like doing because it keeps our minds busy and occupied, you know,” Kathy says. “Sitting around, that’s hard. That’s really hard.”

The meal

Block by block, orange- and black-clad celebrants line up for lunch, the smell of ham and potatoes now wafting through the cavernous hallway.

A deputy moves from door to door, sliding meals through slots one at a time. The men from the kitchen assist, handing off trays in a well-practiced assembly line.

“I’m telling you, nobody serves like this man here,” one of the helpers cracks.

“Ho, ho, ho,” says the deputy dryly.

One by one, men and women take their trays and retreat back into their cell blocks. They gather around common room tables and partake in a Christmas feast together.

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