Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016 | 2 a.m.
David Turnbull had been behind bars for three years in High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs after being convicted of a felony armed robbery in 2013. His wife, Yassnia, and three children saw him just four times during that span, and she gave birth to their fourth child while Turnbull was incarcerated.
On Tuesday night, just weeks after moving from High Desert to Casa Grande – a central Las Vegas valley halfway house – tears of joy streamed down Turnbull’s face as his family unwrapped two children’s bicycles and a 40-inch high-definition TV among other gifts donated by local non-profits, radio listeners, boy scouts and Metro Police at a surprise holiday event.
“This is mind-blowing. I had no idea this was coming,” Turnbull said, nodding his head as he spoke. “To sit down, eat and share presents, this is great.”
With many of the inmates still months away from completing their sentencing, Tuesday’s event likely represented the most intimate moments they’ll have with their families until mid-2017.
While inmates living at the facility are allowed to leave each day for work, they must return immediately after their shift ends, and cannot make contact with their families outside of weekend visitation hours. Casa Grande habitants are also prohibited from having cell phones, and can’t own a vehicle either.
Turnbull, 36, Yassnia, and their four children, Destiney, 16, David Jr., 15, Honey, 8 and Hailey, 2, formed one of 12 emotional families enjoying their first Christmas celebrations together in years at Casa Grande while sitting on large sofas next to illuminated Christmas trees.
The event, which staged surprise reunions between incarcerated parents and their families, and included a full-scale ham, turkey, stuffing and vegetable dinner, was hosted by Hope for Prisoners and Las Vegas-based SOS Radio 90.5. It also featured visits from Metro Police volunteer officers and ‘Santa Claus.’
“This is a turning point from your past, for all of you,” said Scott Herrold of SOS Radio’s morning show, to a crowd of about 150 people. “This is your chance to look forward to the future.”
Sitting in a yellow button-down shirt, a black-and-silver striped tie and matching black pants, Richard Morris said he was dressed better Tuesday than he had been in nearly two years. Nineteen months through a two-year sentence for drug trafficking, he laughed playfully as his four-year-old son Jaylen sat on his shoulders and high-fived Morris’ wife, Keleigh.
Morris, 41, recently completed the Christian faith-based non-profit Hope for Prisoners program, which helps facilitate prisoners’ re-entry into society. Morris said the program, founded by Las Vegas pastor and former inmate Jon D. Ponder, helped him to dig within himself and realize his actions – not those of other people - control his future.
“It helped me dissect my hatred against the cops,” Morris said. “Jon helped me realize the problem was within myself. I didn’t like myself or who I became, and I have a new outlook on life.”
One such police officer who volunteers with Hope for Prisoners and distributed more than 30 plush teddy bears to children at Tuesday night’s Christmas event, Capt. Roxanne McDaris, said the program has been equally beneficial in allowing her to learn more about how police are perceived by inmates, and how she can improve those relationships.
“I think as officers it keeps us human and real to see people beyond their record or their past and see them as people,” McDaris said. “As a parent and grandparent, it helps me see that when it comes to family, it’s such a foundation for everybody.”
During dinner, Ponder and Herrold led prayer and offered words of encouragement to inmates and their families. But while Tuesday’s event was a celebratory occasion for the 12 reunited families, Ponder reminded prisoners their journey to their freedom still is not complete. He encouraged them to think of their families when serving their last months in Casa Grande.
“Don’t let another Christmas go by without your family,” he said. “That has a ripple effect that extends beyond yourselves.”