BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. — In the spirit of Christmas, Sullivan County Sheriff Wayne Anderson dressed up in a red suit with white trim, hat and a white beard on Wednesday when he visited the prisoners at the county jail.

Dressed as Santa Claus, Anderson visited every prisoner in the jail, providing them with a small gift bag for Christmas. Anderson has been impersonating Santa for seven years, handing out small toiletry bags to the inmates there.

This year, the bags — provided by the Good News Jail & Prison Ministry — contained soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo and some snacks.

Anderson gave gifts bags to more than 560 prisoners on Wednesday.

“I used to walk into the cells and just tell the inmates ‘Merry Christmas,’ ” Anderson said before visiting the prisoners. “Now, I dress up as Santa Claus. I go in and it’s a lot of fun. I get a lot of really different remarks from the inmates, but they always say ‘Thank you’ and ‘God bless you.’ ”

The sheriff said it takes about three hours to visit every inmate in the jail.

“I’ve always thought it was a good idea to share the gift bags with the inmates,” said Chaplain Kent Pugh with Good News Jail & Prison Ministry. “Sheriff Anderson started going around with me and he has been dressing up as Santa Claus.”

Pugh said local churches have been very supportive, providing toiletries for all of the jail’s inmates.

As “Santa” visited each cell, Pugh offered a prayer and explained where the gifts came from. During several stops, Santa and the prisoners sang Christmas carols,

“They look forward to this every year,” Anderson said. “If I walk through the jail the week before I do this, they want to know when Santa is going to be here. They get excited about it.”

Anderson said he is not rewarding the inmates.

“It’s just Christmastime and we want to give something to them,” he said. | 276-645-2531 | Twitter: @RSorrellBHC |

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