The Holbrook Holiday

In 2013, an Ohio woman named Trixie Belew was indicted for allegedly stealing money from the school system for which she worked. Belew, according to the Columbus Dispatch, “was an accounts-payable manager for South-Western [City School District] when she deposited $38,931 into her own account by writing fraudulent checks in her name and in the names of other district employees.” The next July, she pleaded guilty to a reduced charge. Prison time was almost certainly in her future, perhaps a few years of it.

And Belew did, in fact, get jail time as part of her punishment. In total, she was sentenced to five years of probation, ordered to pay $11,444 in restitution, and had to serve three days in prison — with an asterisk. While that sentence was handed down in July 2014, Belew’s time in the lockup didn’t begin until December 22nd. Specifically, she had to serve her time from December 22 through 26. The judge, Michael Holbrook, sentenced Belew to Christmas behind bars. 

For Holbrook, sending people up the river to “celebrate” a holiday is nothing new. He started sending convicts to prison on a special day — Christmas, their birthday, etc. — after learning about 
“a federal prison program that makes convicts on probation serve national holidays behind bars,” according to the Associated Press. And he’s been doing this since at least 2008, when he sent 23 people to prison over Christmas, according to that same AP report. Since then, Holbrook has sentenced more than 40 convicts to what he and others now call “Holbrook Holidays.”

In 2013, Holbrook described his process to ABC News, and at first blush, it sounds downright evil:

I take some date that is important to the individual and make them give it up. For example, if they celebrate Christmas, I would make them go to jail for three to five days during the Christmas holiday so they miss Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with their families.

But taking a step back, Holbrook Holidays may be a kinder — and perhaps more effective — alternative. As the judge further explained to ABC News, “I could make them go to jail on every holiday if I wanted to. But I just make them go on their favorite day, like their birthday. In one case I made one man who was very involved in his community go to jail on the Fourth of July.”

And usually, these four-day “holidays” are in lieu of multi-year sentences which would have included those holidays anyway. As one probation officer told the AP, “it’s an alternative to prison, so I’ve never had anybody really complain.”

Bonus fact: Famed DIY-designer Martha Stewart spent five months in prison as part of a stock trading scandal, and as a result, she celebrated Christmas 2004 in a minimum-security prison in West Virginia. While there, she and a team of other inmates entered the prison’s DIY holiday decoration contest, creating paper cranes that hung from the ceiling. Despite having a ringer like Stewart on their team, reported People magazine, the crane squad lost to “a nativity scene built by inmates assigned to the institution’s firefighting unit.”

From the Archives: Pedaling to Freedom: An interesting way to get out of prison.