Penitentiary inmates reach out to the homeless with holiday feast

November 18, 1990|By Susan Schoenberger

An article in Nov. 18 editions of The Sun incorrectly identified inmates who were cooking a Thanksgiving dinner. The inmates were from the Baltimore City Correctional Center and the Baltimore Pre-Release Unit.

Emerson Smith and eight fellow inmates at the Maryland Penitentiary are peeling potatoes. Lots of them. About 8,000 pounds over five days.

But no one was grumbling Thursday night as they sliced heaps of peeled potatoes on oversized cutting boards and dropped the quarters into lined trash cans. The prisoners had volunteered, along with 70 or so other inmates at the Baltimore prison, to help prepare a free Thanksgiving dinner for about 10,000 poor and homeless people.


"This project is very special to us because a lot of us came from backgrounds like that," Smith said. "This gives us an opportunity to show the community that we're trying to work toward change, not only ourselves but our lifestyles."

The prisoners got involved in the project after Lt. Walter F. Pollock, a corrections officer, suggested that they donate their time to a Thanksgiving dinner organized annually by Bea Gaddy, an activist for the homeless. The inmates were cooking 200 to 300 turkeys and preparing 8,000 pounds of potatoes.

"For a good cause, everybody comes together," Ms. Gaddy said Friday. "If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't make it."

The inmates got permission to use two industrial-sized Penitentiary kitchens -- one in the Pre-Release Center and the other in the minimum-security lockup, both in the 900 block of Greenmount Avenue -- to cook turkeys and prepare potatoes from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. Wednesday through today. The cooked turkeys will be frozen, then steamed for Thanksgiving dinner Thursday, Lieutenant Pollock said.

To the inmates involved, the project is both a good deed and a step toward establishing their place on the other side of the bars.

"It gives us a chance to do something for somebody else," said Nathaniel Williams, president of the minimum-security facility's Inmate Advisory Council. "They're trying to give back for what they did to get here in the first place."

To Sydney Ingram, who expects to be home from the Pre-Release Center before Christmas, it's a chance to show the public that many inmates have benefited from the corrections system. On Thursday night, he cooked turkeys until midnight and planned to get up at 4:30 a.m. Friday for his job with the Maryland Transportation Authority.

"If all it's going to cost me is a few hours' sleep, I don't mind," he said.

Baha Wali, another Pre-Release prisoner, said inmate leaders had no trouble recruiting help for the project.

"Most of the men in here really want to contribute," he said. "There are so many people out there homeless and wandering.

The Thanksgiving dinner, sponsored by the Patterson Park Emergency Center, will be held from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. in a heated tent on McElderry Street, behind the Northeast Market, Ms. Gaddy said.

Families also will be given food for a meal the next day. Anyone eating alone on Thanksgiving is invited to attend the dinner or to call 563-2749 for a home-delivered meal, she said.

How to help

Donations of food for the Thanksgiving dinner will be accepted at WQSR-FM, 5200 Moravia Road, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today. Refrigerated trucks will be available to hold perishable foods.

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