However, some young offenders find little solace while incarcerated during this time year
Tim Oakes sat at a long, red table, slowly eating yellow rice, carne adovada and corn. He spoke with wisdom well beyond his 20 years.
Although Oakes is in jail, and alone for the holidays -- whereas some other inmates can see their families -- he has hope for the future, he said.
Oakes -- under corrections policy, real names of inmates cannot be used -- a native of Waipahu, Hawaii, has been at the Santa Fe County Youth Development Program on Airport Road for almost three years.
He and about 80 other inmates there gathered Sunday for a holiday luncheon with family members.
The jail houses two groups of inmates between ages 12 and 21: federal inmates from throughout the United States who stay between a year and five years, and detainees from Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Los Alamos counties incarcerated before sentencing. They stay between two weeks and a month, said Melissa Padilla, facility director.
Only a handful of females live at the maximum-security jail, run by Cornell Corrections, she said.
The prisoners' crimes range from murder to drug smuggling, said Chris Martinez, program director.
Six holding areas contain 8-foot by 15-foot cells at the jail, which can hold a maximum of 129 prisoners, Padilla said.
During Thanksgiving and around the Christmas holidays, inmates are allowed to share meals with their families at jail gatherings, Martinez said. About 180 family members were there on Sunday.
Oakes said he and the other inmates prepared the decorations for the event Sunday inside the one of the rooms used as a cafeteria.
Careful attention had been paid to the decorations, from small, paper candy canes taped to silver napkin holders to an ornate 2-foot fireplace made from construction paper with yellow, orange and red flames. A real Christmas tree was decked with white-, green- and red-paper decorations while confetti, cut from white paper bags, dotted the red tablecloths.
While many families seemed happy to see each other, there was a sense of sadness in the room.
Standing in a long line to serve themselves, the five-member Gomez family stood along a wall. (The family also asked that their real names not be used.)
"It's terrible to have a child away from you for so long," said Louraine Gomez, whose son, Mark, has been at the facility for eight months. He has three more months to serve.