As a light snow dusted Pittsburgh, eight men in well-worn red jumpsuits stood at folding tables, packaging gifts for about 2,500 fellow inmates who spent the holidays at the Allegheny County Jail. Each inmate got a ballpoint pen, a tablet of white paper, a plastic comb, two small bars of soap, a packet of hot chocolate, a size 3XL thermal underwear top, the script of a prayer, and a sheet of paper with a 2006 calendar. The gift packages, worth $7 each, were bought with donations collected at local churches.
“It’s gifts you need and it means, ‘I’m not forgotten,’ ” said inmate Elliot Jones, who was posted at the tail end of the gift-packing line, sealing each envelope with two pieces of tape. “Little things like sugar, mustard, little ketchup packs you throw away at McDonald’s. … They’re like your money in here,” he said.