'Tis the Season to Phone Home

While the rest of Miami was macking under the mistletoe, gorging on chocolate Santas, or swilling their way toward 2006, the approximately 1500, um, residents of downtown's Federal Detention Center stewed in their cells.

But there was some good cheer. And it didn't come from a bottle. Just across the street from the twenty-story granite faade — which has slits for windows — is a construction site that morphed into a festive display. Friends and families of prisoners scrawled messages on sheets, pillowcases, pizza boxes, and scraps of poster board, then hung them from the chainlink fence.

Many of the two dozen signs bore holiday sentiments. One, made of orange construction paper and red pipe cleaners, addressed prisoner 92712631. It read, "Better new years are coming!" Then there were assorted mementos clinging to the fence: a dozen withered yellow roses sheathed in dirt-flecked plastic; garlands of tinsel; limp balloon animals.

Visitors also festooned the surrounding sidewalks and street lamps with drawings in chalk, dirt, cigarette ash, and other materials. A giant bespectacled smiley face made of blue masking tape peered up from one patch of pavement.

Guard Borys Montalvo says that in the year he has worked at the FDC, he has never seen this kind of display. "Sometimes you'll see a sign when there's a birthday," he explains. "But this is the first time there's been this many. I hope those guys who are up there by themselves can see this."

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Mariah Blake
Contact: Mariah Blake