Christmas behind bars

By: 
Jasmine Hall

One man’s gifts will be left unopened under the family tree this year while he spends Christmas incarcerated. 

Livingston resident Chad Mattfeldt, 41, was transferred Wednesday from the Park County Detention Center to Yellowstone County for an alleged felony probation violation following his Park County arrest for felony charges including intent to distribute dangerous drugs and unlawful possession of a firearm. He is being held in Billings without bond. 

While many of us are enjoying the Christmas season with our families, hundreds of Montanans are spending the holidays behind bars serving their court-ordered time or awaiting trial, hoping they’ll be home next Christmas. 

A convicted felon, Mattfeldt said spending the holidays locked up is nothing new but this time around he’s got something special — a family on the outside. 

Speaking during a Tuesday telephone interview, Mattfeldt said spending about two months in the Park County jail, including Thanksgiving, hasn’t been too bad. 

“It was alright,” Mattfeldt said recalling Thanksgiving day. “We sat around and watched the TV, ate the Thanksgiving dinner. Pretty much hung out and drank coffee.”

Mattfeldt added inmates were given a home-cooked turkey dinner with fixings, and were allowed visitation with their families. Mattfeldt said “it sucks being away from your family” but he felt fortunate enough to be able to see his family for 30 minutes.

“Not everybody has it like that,” he said, adding Thanksgiving’s visitation was the highlight of his day. “So it helps.”

For those who do not have family, Mattfeldt said inmates often support each other during the difficult holiday seasons. He recalled times when he served “a bunch of holidays” in various correctional institutions such as Montana Sate Prison. 

“This is the first time I’ve ever really had like somebody on my team, like my wife is,” he said adding he was “grumpy” during past holiday incarcerations. “It’s definitely better that my wife and kids come, but even the people that don’t get visits and that kind of stuff, we all look out for each other.”

Park County Detention Center Sgt. Kevin Barnes said Christmas is usually “like every other day” for inmates except they get a holiday meal. Barnes said the same seven detention center meals are provided each week and holiday meals from the Community Christmas Dinner is a treat. 

“Anything outside our normal meal plan they love because they get the same thing,” Barnes said. “Every Monday they get the same meal, every Tuesday that’s what they get … Plus it’s good meals — turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, pie.”

Working at least three Christmases over his 7-year career, Barnes said the Christmas atmosphere in the jail depends on the inmates who are incarcerated.

“Some people have a hard time with it because they’re away from their families,” he said. “… You try to be somewhat festive about it, but a lot of people that are down there, they’ve got a lot of things going on where it’s not a positive situation.”

Some inmates attempt to bring more holiday cheer to the jail, Barnes said, adding inmates sometimes play Christmas music from channels on the jail’s television.

“One group built a Christmas tree out of paper,” he recalled. “They were cute little trees.”

As officers, Barnes said they are available to listen to inmates who struggle during Christmas and offer words of advice to make it through. 

“We do our best to help them realize ‘This too shall pass and you’ll be with your family again. Just treat that next Christmas you have with them special,’” Barnes said. 

Mattfeldt’s wife, Robin, said Wednesday night, that she did not know if her husband had been transferred to Yellowstone County but said her family will visit him if he is still in the Park County jail.

“We’re hoping he gets out but I don’t know that he will,” Robin said. “But if he doesn’t, the only thing that’s really going to change is he won’t be here … But unfortunately dad’s presents are probably going to stay under the tree until he gets home.”

To make things a little more Christmassy for Mattfeldt, Robin said she will do what she did for Thanksgiving — send money to him at the jail’s store. 

“(He) needs cookies because Christmas is coming up,” Robin laughed adding, “I sent 60 bucks down there for Thanksgiving because I knew he wouldn’t be out. So he could order all the ridiculous cookies, and chips and Ramen. It’s what we would have done at home, sat here and ate all day long … So why not do that where (he’s) at?” 

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Jasmine Hall may be reached at jhall@livent.net.