Lt. Biggs, left, and Warden M. Eliot Spearman stand beside the backpacks to be given to students who were visiting their incarcerated relatives.

By High Desert State Prison staff

The lieutenant who oversees visiting at High Desert State Prison (HDSP) saw a need and decided to do something about it.

Lt. Orlando Biggs  went to Warden M. Eliot Spearman and pitched the idea of gathering backpacks for some of the children who visit their incarcerated loved ones. Warden Spearman agreed to the project and Lt. Biggs got to work.

Some of the remaining backpacks were donated to local schools.

He coordinated with the Susanville Walmart and the accounting office at HDSP to facilitate the purchases. He rallied staff to raise money to purchase the backpacks and school supplies.

HDSP Visiting Office Technician Beverly Hibbits assisted with preparation and organization of the purchased backpacks. She tracked all the money and participated in the purchasing of all the items from Walmart.

On Saturday, Aug. 26, the inmate fathers, grandfathers, uncles and brothers at HDSP were given the opportunity to provide their children and loved ones with a good first day of school by giving them backpacks and school supplies for the upcoming school year.

Each backpack cost $40 and was filled with school supplies.

All the inmates eligible for visits participated in the backpack project. Visiting staff collected over $2,500 and bought 84 backpacks for kids ages 4 to 17. One of the inmates who wanted to remain anonymous donated 19 backpacks for kids that could not visit during the weekend.

On the day of the distribution, HDSP Visiting Staff distributed 30 backpacks to children who came in to visit. Several of the backpacks were taken down to different visiting facilities, so that inmates who purchased the backpacks could take photos with their children and to see their accomplishments with their family members. On one of the Visiting Room facilities, a few of the inmates notified Visiting Staff that there were two families in the visiting room with children and the children did not have back packs.

Visiting Staff made sure that those children were given back packs. All the families that were given photo tokens were able to take photos with families and the backpacks.

Those children were given their backpacks upon departing from the institution.

One senior in high school, along with her mother, came to visit her brother on Facility A. When exiting the institution, she was given a backpack and politely said thank you. Once she opened the bag and saw what was inside, she gave Visiting Staff a high-five and enthusiastically said “thank you so much.” She said she could really use those school supplies because her mother was going through a financial hardship.

One of the visitors came in with two children – an 11-year-old girl and a young man who is a freshman in High School.

Lt. Biggs asked the visitor what grade the children were in and if they had started school. The women said they both are scheduled to start school this week. Lt. Biggs told the mother HDSP would give both her children backpacks when they left the prison. She asked, “Are you kidding?” The woman started crying and thanked the lieutenant. The remaining backpacks that were not distributed were donated to schools in Susanville.

“This was a great opportunity to build that strong family bond with the inmates and their family members,” said Lt. Biggs. “A number of the Visiting Staff were extremely grateful that Warden Spearman allowed this event to transpire.”

Warden Spearman said, “This was great for our offenders to assist their children, and to help the community at large by donating remaining backpacks to McKinley School (Bulldogs) students. This is another example of the wonderful work HDSP employees do every day up on the mountain.”