SAN ANGELO, TX - Those who’ve experienced Christmas in the Concho Valley know San Angelo puts a lot of work into making the season merry and bright. But all that cheer takes a lot of work.
KIDY’s Margaux Farrell spoke to some of the people who make it all possible.
The Concho Christmas Lights Tour is a tradition in the Concho Valley that has been around since 1994.
The Tour of Lights now stretches over a two-and-a-half-mile drive, featuring over three million lights!
But who puts up those lights? Who makes this Christmas spectacular come to life?
William Warner is one of the inmates in the W-3 San Angelo work camp.
“For a split second, it doesn’t feel like you’re locked up. It kind-of gives you the sense of being free, of being back in society and doing what makes you feel good,” Warner said.
Warner is currently serving 10 years for a DWI – his fifth time behind bars. Only now, he isn’t always locked up.
“I want to make this my last time, so I can get out there and be supportive to my family, people that are counting on me out there, instead of being selfish and always thinking about myself. I’m trying to put other people in from of my life this time.”
Warner and nine other inmates are state-approved trustees. They are all in for no-aggravated crimes and they had to be screened and hand-selected by the warden to earn this opportunity.
“We have very little problems with these offenders once they do reach this program,” Gerald Parnell, Captain of Correctional Officers, said.
There are several other work camps in San Angelo. Some help out with Habitat for Humanity or the fairgrounds.
So, these work camps end up becoming more than just a prison sentence.
“We all got along like a family, we are like a big football team…We all play together and work together,” Thomas Caylor, with Concho Christmas, said.
“I think this is a really good thing for the offenders because they can learn some skills while they are here that helps them once they get out to go back and learn some job trades and help them from keep to coming back to the prison,” Captain Parnell said.
“Instead of waking up and going, ‘Ugh, I got another day to do,’ you wake up going, ‘Hey, I get to go out and do something. I get to be somebody today,’ and I know for myself, that means a lot. Anything I do I want to put 100 percent into it, and I know these guys that I work with do the same thing,” Warner said.
Warner acknowledges the mistakes he’s made over the years, but now sees a different life for himself thanks to this program.
“I don’t want to lose my family over the choices that I have made, so it’s time to make different choices. I believe given the opportunity, everybody can change.”
It takes four months to put up all the lights and then two months to take them all down. But when the lights tour begins, Warner will get a taste of some Christmas cheer.
“It’s one of the big highlights of their night, we will load everyone on the bus, we’ll go to the entrance and Mr. Flugar always provides ice cream and hot cholate for them, and they’ll do the tour and they’ll get to see the fruits of their labor.”
Having spent the last 20 years of his life in and out of prison, Warner says he’s ready to prove he’s changing for the better and hopes his newfound work ethic and commitment will prove it.
(© 2016 KIDY)