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Holly-Stenciled Stone Walls Do a Festive Prison Make

By Alicia C. Shepard
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, December 19, 2004; Page D01

No doubt, when inmates inside Alderson Federal Prison Camp heard domestic diva Martha Stewart would be living among them during Christmastime, secret prayers began. Please, dear Warden, pretty please, put her in my unit!

With Stewart, they'd be sure to win the annual holiday decorating contest.

It's not likely that Martha Stewart's Christmas at Alderson Federal Prison Camp will look like her holiday specials, such as this one on CBS in 2000. (Todd Atkinson -- Cbs)

_____Martha Stewart Coverage_____
Martha, From Slammer to Syndication (The Washington Post, Dec 9, 2004)
Domestic Diva to Spend Thanksgiving Inside (The Washington Post, Nov 24, 2004)
Stewart Wants Firm to Help Pay Lawyers (The Washington Post, Nov 10, 2004)
Complete Trial Background

You could almost hear the glee and envision the touchdown-type dances among the 80 women in Cottage J-11 when the famous homemaker and author of "Handmade Christmas" moved in.

Yes, it's true. The prison in Alderson, W.Va., where craft maven Stewart began a five-month sentence on Oct. 8 for lying about a suspicious stock sale, actually holds a spirited inmate Christmas decorating contest. This year's theme: Peace on Earth.

"They really go all out for Christmas," says Chrisa Gonzalez, who served seven months in Alderson in 2001-2002. "There are some very creative women in there."

Could Christmas in federal prison possibly be as magical as one of Stewart's Christmas books?

"During the holidays, the house you know so well becomes a magical welcoming place; the weeks before Christmas are a time for creating a new, surprising world indoors," writes Stewart in her 1997 book, "Christmas With Martha Stewart Living."

"While cheerful activity and a sense of anticipation fill the home, the backdrop to all the celebrations need not remain the same, year after year," she suggests. "Decorations, gift wrapping and the holiday menus can all be reinvented, in part or in whole."

Well this year, the celebration definitely won't be same-old-same-old. But if anybody can muster magic for detention center decorating, it is Stewart. She will spend Christmas 2004 behind bars with 1,038 other women in the minimum-security facility that was designed to look like Bucknell University.

This year, the 10 housing units inside the rural prison camp will compete for the best-decorated common areas. But there's no cell-to-cell competition. Neither Stewart, her roommate, Kimberly Renee Bennett, a convicted cocaine dealer, nor others may hang holly, silvery ribbons or anything Christmasy in their cubicles.

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