What’s creepier than hanging out at a jail on Halloween? A whole lot, it turns out.
Every year, the River Ridge Correctional Centre in Fort Smith welcomes young ghouls and goblins to haunt its front lawn while noshing on hot dogs, hot chocolate and – of course – Halloween candy.
“This is the eleventh year we’ve run this,” said warden Warren Gillis. “Over the years we’ve built different parts of the setup. The guys like it, the staff like it, the community appreciates it – it’s a lot of fun.”
A spooky stand houses the main food prep operations, while a wall tent is posted next door, allowing cold kids and their families to get warmed up. A sprawling series of snow-covered graves, decorated with styrofoam headstones and perhaps a ghost or two, add to the eerie ambiance, as do flashing lights from the bylaw officer’s truck.
“It’s great, lots of people get involved,” said James “Toko” MacDonald, a staffer with the facility. “We’ve had to get an officer to direct traffic because it gets so busy.”
The effort also receives support from local businesses. Both the Northern store and Kaeser’s supermarket conjure up supplies to make the happening possible.
It’s just one small element of the restorative justice and volunteer initiatives inmates at the centre participate in, Gillis said.
“It’s good for the guys. A lot of them have their own kids in the community, or outside the community,” he noted. “They don’t get to see them very often, so this is one way for them to kind of get out and celebrate.”
The volunteers handed out more than 300 hot dogs and even more cups of hot chocolate this year, organizers said.