Every family has its own Christmas traditions, and the Radcliffs are no exception. Their tradition, though, holds the promise of spreading hope far beyond the holidays.
For more than 80 years, three generations of Radcliff men have served as Pickaway County Sheriff, and during that time they and their families have included inmates at the county jail in their holiday celebrations.
“Jail is a hard enough place to be anyway, and to be away from your family for the holidays makes it even harder,” said Sheriff Robert Radcliff. “I was brought up that you treat people the way you want to be treated, and that’s what we try to do.”
Each year, on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, the sheriffs Radcliff, with their wives, children and siblings, have gathered at the Pickaway County Jail to help deliver holiday meals to inmates.
“It’s about being compassionate,” Sheriff Radcliff said. “The holidays are the time we should treat everybody with some caring. We’re not taking away their crime; they’re still in jail and receiving their punishment for what they’ve done, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be humane with somebody. And you never know, maybe that good turn and that kindness might be that thing that turns people around and makes them decide they don’t want to stay on this path they’re on.”
Sheriff Radcliff inherited that philosophy from his father, Dwight Radcliff, who served 48 years as Pickaway County Sheriff and holds the title of longest-serving sheriff in U.S. history. He and his wife, Betty, never missed a holiday meal at the jail during his tenure.
It was a tradition that began with his own father, Sheriff Charles Radcliff, who served for 30 years before Dwight took office.
“My dad did it before I did, while I was growing up,” Dwight Radcliff said. “My mother did the cooking, and she was right down there, handing trays to my dad.”
Dwight Radcliff said they always felt it was an important part of the holidays, because the people in the jail were “somebody’s father, mother, daughter, son, whatever it would be.”
“And they weren’t always guilty,” Betty Radcliff said. “Sometimes they were just in there before they went to court.”
The elder Radcliffs said they enjoyed making the holiday meals a part of their own family tradition and often received Christmas cards and messages of thanks from the people they served.
“Mother got a lot of nice remarks back,” Dwight Radcliff said. “Betty did, too. I think the people really appreciated it, and we always enjoyed it.”
The current Sheriff Radcliff said he always thinks back to a story his own mother, Betty, told him about putting Christmas trees on each level of the old Franklin Street jail and putting certain prisoners in charge of protecting the tree to make sure it wasn’t damaged or destroyed.
“They took care of it and protected it, and they really appreciated that,” Sheriff Radcliff said. “I just never forgot that, and as long as I’m around, I’m going to continue to take the time and come in and share my Christmas and Thanksgiving with these people who have to be away from their families, whatever the reason may be.”