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Angola prisoners see themselves as 'Santa's Helpers'

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BATON ROUGE-- A handful of prisoners imprisoned at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola call themselves "Santa's Helpers," even though many are convicted murderers serving life sentences.

That's because they spend all their free time hand-crafting jewelry, wooden toys, and refurbishing bicycles for children who may not otherwise get gifts on Christmas.

"When you picture yourself going to prison, you don't picture this kinda stuff goin' on," Randy Patorno said.  He was convicted of second degree murder in 2002 and faces a life sentence.

With little hope of ever tasting freedom again, the process of giving back is what keeps him, and other inmates, going.

"It's nice-- the kids were as happy as could be, just smiling from ear to ear," Patorno told News 2 about the video he saw of kids getting brand new bikes and other toys several years ago.

The Toy Shop, Inc. began several years ago when prisoners were making toys with scraps around the prison.  That caught the eye of warden Burl Cain, who allowed prisoners to spend money from their own pockets to wire the building, and purchase everything it took to start a full-scale toy operation.

The first year, inmates gave out several hundred toys.  Last year, they gave out 5,000 toys and 350 bicycles.  But that's still not enough in the eyes of Scotty Thibodeaux, who said there are still some kids who don't get any toys.

"It's hard," Thibodeaux told News 2.  But that's why he toils away after his regular job on the prison compound.  He wants to make sure that doesn't happen again.

If you want to help, you can donate old bicycles or wheelchairs to The Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge.


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