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Pies, Folsom Prison Blues, and Hope at the 2019 AMCC Christmas Potlatch

Almost every year, Anvil Mountain Correctional Center (AMCC) in Nome holds a community potlatch around Christmas-time. Inmates at the facility can invite family and community members for food, fellowship, and music.

KNOM’s Emily Hofstaedter sat down for the Christmas meal at AMCC on Wednesday and reports on the sense of hope and healing it brought to attendees.

There’s turkey, ham, green beans, potatoes, coleslaw, and an entire table of various Christmas cookies all served by AMCC residents who are eager to pile heaps of food onto everyone’s plate. After everyone eats, the St. Lawrence Island Dancers have an Invitational Dance on the program to get people moving and digesting.

The atmosphere is festive in the gym of the correctional facility. The food is served and cooked by the inmates who work in the kitchen and others do the holiday decorations, like the Christmas willow.

Ornament hanging on the Christmas willow tree, made by an AMCC inmate. Photo from Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM (2019)

Christmas is a time for family, being together, and taking care of each other as Mayor Richard Beneville reminded the group gathered in the gym.  

“I just saw something really emotional, a young lady sitting on her father’s lap, wiping away the tears from his eyes.”

– Mayor Beneville

There were a few tearful faces in the crowd, some cry because they’re happy to be with their loved ones. Others cried because they couldn’t.

Jacob Bloodgood of Nome is currently incarcerated at the facility and tries to remain merry even though his 18-month-old son couldn’t make the event. He acknowledges that for many people across the community, this is a hard time of year.

“I just want to remind everybody to be there for each other, for the people who may not have a place to go get a meal. For the people that can supply an extra plate, find it in your heart to bring someone else in, that may not be able to feed themselves.”  

– Jacob Bloodgood

Bloodgood isn’t proud that this is his second Christmas potlatch inside of the facility but he says the event and others are important for the inmates. It helps them feel like they aren’t forgotten.

“It kind of makes everybody feel more special. For a lot of the people here, because they’re so far away from their family, or they don’t have family, getting to see other people that are not incarcerated, you know, it kind of reminds them of home.”

– Jacob Bloodgood

A few of the inmates shared that they hope to attend the Christmas potlatch as visitors someday. Some of the visitors who came and performed for the inmates remembered similar situations in their life, like Evelyn “EJ” Rochon. She was never incarcerated, but says she was kept at treatment facilities as a child and remembered longing for her family during that period of separation.

“No matter what somebody goes through, no matter what somebody does, they’re still human.”

– EJ Rochon
Francine Johnson and Evelyn “EJ” Rochon performing during the AMCC Christmas Potlatch. Photo from Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM (2019).

And though not a traditional Christmas tune, Rochon played her ukulele for one of the more popular performances: a rendition of Folsom Prison Blues with Anvil Mountain included in the lyrics. In true country music-style, Rochon’s mother, Francine Johnson, accompanied her by playing the spoons.

Music has always been healing for their family, Johnson explains, and she’s grateful that they get to share it with the attendees at the potlatch.

“Gathering together, eating together, is part of our tradition, is part of our culture. And I’m glad and I’m happy for this opportunity that Anvil Mountain has this happen every year and I really appreciate it because I believe it’s a part of healing for everybody.” 

– Francine Johnson

Image at top: AMCC inmates serve freshly baked pies and cookies at the annual Christmas potlatch. Photo from Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM (2019).

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