The first two things Celeste Suite asked for when she spent a month in the Salt Lake County jail were a hair tie and a pillow.
Her two older sisters, Sabrena Suite-Mangum and Cassandra Suite-Smith, got her the pillow and the hair tie. But they left the jail wanting to do more, Suite-Mangum said.
“We also knew that there were so many other women that didn’t have the support system our sister does,” Suite-Mangum said on Friday morning at the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office. So she and her sister, Cassandra Suite-Smith started raising money to buy pillows for the other women in the jail.
Since launching the fundraiser in October, the sisters have raised more $8,500 — enough to buy more than 600 pillows.
On Friday, Suite-Mangum and Suite-Smith spent Friday morning at the jail, going from pod to pod passing out a pillow to each of the 360 women. The rest of the pillows will be donated to women who come into the jail over the holiday weekend, Suite-Mangum said.
There were about 2,000 people in the jail on Friday. For now, at least, only the women received pillows.
“Most of the women in jail are actually mothers, are the primary caregivers, so it’s a particularly difficult time,“ Suite-Mangum said.
When someone arrives at the Salt Lake County jail, they receive plastic, croc-like shoes, clothes, soap, a toothbrush, a cup, sheets and a blanket. They don’t receive a free pillow. Providing each of the 2,000 inmates would be expensive for the county since, for health reasons, the jail can’t reuse pillows when inmates leave, said Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera.
Inmates can buy a pillow, for $13, “one of the most expensive, or the most expensive thing on the commissary list,” Celeste Suite said.
The $13 is pricy for many of the inmates, and the pillows can take anywhere from a few days to a week and a half to arrive, Suite said. So many women resort to bunching up their sheets, or propping up their heads on their arms or their plastic shoes when they sleep on their three-inch mattresses on their metal bunk beds.
In her pod of about 60 people, maybe seven or eight had pillows, she said.
“There’s not many people who have the support,” she said. “Somebody has to put money on your books or somebody has to order it for you.”
The pillows mean more to many of the women than merely something soft to sleep on, Rivera said. For Suite, it almost meant hope, she said Friday morning.
One woman kissed and hugged the pillow she received as she took it back to her cell, according to a Facebook post from the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office.
“We would never have known that that pillow was so important to someone had [Celeste Suite] not brought that forward,” Rivera said. “I do believe that some of these folks who got a pillow today may make a change in their life as well.”
Suite said when she talked to other women in the jail about her sisters’ fundraiser, it inspired them to do better.
“It’s the smallest things ... ,” she said, trailing off as her her voice broke. “It’s going to help a lot of people. These people that don’t have anyone, the fact that somebody who doesn’t know them shows that they care about them makes you want to do better.”