LAND O'LAKES — There are no Christmas decorations in jail. Sometimes Christmas specials come on the TVs bolted high on the pod walls, but the easiest way for Linda Bolling to tell this time of year apart from any other is that she hears more of her fellow inmates sobbing on the telephone.
Despair festers behind the barbed wire during the holidays. So much that jail guards and mental health specialists who deal with inmates are trained to be on high alert for suicides between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.
"It's a time we really have to watch them closer," said Pasco jail shift commander Thomas Perron. "Because if it's going to happen, this is the time of year it's going to happen."
Defendants in court try to calculate their way out of spending Christmas Day in the slammer. People want to be served warm food and presents at Christmas, not justice. Pleas become more introspective and emotional in Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa's courtroom. More cases get resolved, he said, as defendants seek to wash their hands of their accusations.
Others want to begin the new year with a clean slate.
On Monday, 78 people are scheduled to try to resolve their cases before 2014. Not all of them will. Some ask Siracusa to lower their bail, so they can afford to pay their way out. The bond hearing schedule saw its busiest day this year on Dec. 23. Siracusa heard 69 people plead for a way out of jail. Defendants try to appeal to his emotions. To testify on their behalf, they bring wives, children, girlfriends, usually fiancees — "everyone is a fiancee in December," he said.
Siracusa said the holidays don't make him any more or less lenient. He's never run percentages on his sentencing, but he figures it wouldn't be any different from his rate in July.
Many defendants plead to charges, leaving their sentence in Siracusa's hands. If jail time is involved, they'll try to delay when they must report until after the holiday. Say someone is sentenced to jail on Dec. 23. He or she will work with an attorney to negotiate serving jail time starting Jan. 10.
Bolling wasn't so lucky.
She was arrested in March for possessing hydrocodone and hydromorphone and sentenced in August to six months. Right away, she knew that meant Christmas in jail, not in the North Georgia mountains with her three children and fiance, like it should have been.
In an interview, she said she got a prescription for pain pills after a car crash in 2010. Two months later, she would double her dose to numb the pain. Then she needed them just to get through the day for three years. Then came the arrest.
Bolling got clean in jail. But she missed 11-year-old Kyle's first year in middle school. Kevin began his first year of football. Jasmine, 19, started on a degree. They don't come to visit her because Kyle was uncomfortable looking at his mother through shatter-proof glass the first time. They stay with their father. She hasn't seen them since August.
Bolling said suicide was never an issue for her. She doesn't cry during her frequent phone calls with the children. She stopped feeling down for herself and started counting the days to her release. Today, 30 days separate her from freedom.
Bolling has already planned what she'll do when she gets out in January. The family will have a late Christmas. There will be a trip to the mountains with her children. And if there's enough money, she'll give them the presents.
Contact Alex Orlando at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.