People working at a homeless shelter hand plates down the line as they add food to the disposable plates.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear about a men’s medium security prison? Probably not the happiest of thoughts. What if I were to tell you about a group of more than 130 offenders who held a candy donation drive to help the local community at Christmas? 

It may not capture the top of the news hour as some of their crimes did, however, the story shows that humanity and the desire to assist others does not disappear when the cell door closes the incarcerated from the rest of society.

The Moberly Correctional Center (MCC) located in Moberly, Missouri, houses roughly 1,700 men serving sentences for a variety of offenses. Inside of the 15-foot razor wire fence is Housing Unit Four, which consists of two wings — A Wing and C Wing — which each holds 66 men. 

The Therapeutic Community (TC), located in A Wing, was created in 2012. It is a structured wing that provides offenders a path for growth, personal development, and an environment free from the typical prison distractions. The men in the TC unit must take classes, volunteer to clean their living area, and maintain a monthly tracking sheet to show their therapeutic gain. 

Its mission statement begins, “Through positive thinking, inspiration, accountability, and dedication, we are transforming individuals…”

The Veterans Program, in C Wing, with its signature flagpole displaying the U.S. flag in the front, houses military veterans from all branches of service. Founded in 2017, the wing is a pilot program for the entire Missouri Department of Corrections, offering veterans specific resources to assist in their transition back into the community. This is the wing, where I live. 

From mental health services to the local veterans administration hospital’s support, the Veterans Wing promotes a structured living environment that revives a sense of duty from their prior military service. Its mission statement reads, “To reduce recidivism in the Veterans Community by restoring our Honor and means to succeed…” 

The men in both of the units are always in search of humanitarian and restorative justice projects. 

With headline news showing the economic impact of COVID-19, inflation, and merchandise shortages in stores, we men yearned to do something different this year in a way that could positively impact someone’s life. 

The majority of the men come from low-income socioeconomic backgrounds including being raised in group homes, the Division of Youth Services, and living on government assistance. They know hardships first hand. 

They also hadn’t forgotten their childhood memories of the sweet bliss of possessing a bag of candy, so they proposed a candy drive to the prison administration, which approved the idea. 

The chosen beneficiary was Community Kitchen in Moberly, a food bank funded by donations and run by volunteers. The organization serves healthy home cooked meals twice a week to approximately 125 guests who are having a hard time making ends meet. 

On December 20, 2021, two large boxes of candy weighing 34 pounds were donated by the men of Housing Unit Four to the Community Kitchen. 

Inside of America’s prisons, sadness, homesickness, and depression resonate through the cell walls. In many cases, the incarcerated do not have the opportunity to participate in charity projects. 

This Christmas, however, men from Housing Unit Four’s Therapeutic Community and Veterans Program, came together and made a difference not only in the local community, but also in their own lives.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Shon Pernice

Shon Pernice is a contributing writer, a veteran and a Kansas City native, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a combat medic and came home with traumatic brain injury and PTSD. He has been published in Veterans Voices, The Beat Within and Military Magazine, and he is a contributing author to the book, "Helping Ourselves By Helping Others: An Incarcerated Men's Survival Guide." He is incarcerated in Missouri.