CINCINNATI - Part of the magic of Christmas is its ability to challenge our perceptions.
A group of a dozen or so men you might not trust raised over $5,000 to keep that magic alive. They want to make sure underprivileged kids share the wonder of Christmas morning.
"I grew up believing in Santa Claus," said Owen Hobbs as he prepared to transport a room full of toys to a loading dock.
Hobbs and many of his colleagues are former Marines.
"I will be a Marine until the day I die," said Hobbs.
In case you haven't figured it out, these men are volunteering for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots, that dates back to 1947.
But these Semper Fi Santas, and those who have joined their cause aren't working at the mall.
They are in Lebanon Correctional Institution, many of them for murder.
The LCI prisoners, along with organizations that partner with them are credited as the biggest contributors to Toys for Tots in Butler and Warren counties.
They work through several veterans' service organizations like Vietnam Veterans of America that believe military training still kicks in behind the razor wire.
"Even though they are incarcerated, they still believe they need to serve our country, the state, the community," said Jason Hall, Veterans Advisor for LCI. "It's programmed in their minds."
While that may be the case, "the inmates don't do the shopping," said warden Ernie Moore.
He says the program has benefits beyond Dec. 25.
"We are constantly striving to encourage inmates to do positive stuff, because lord knows there's a bunch of negative stuff they could get involved in," Moore said.
But as Alex Pendergrass prepares the toys for delivery, it's the magic of the moment that challenges the perceptions of a convicted murderer.
"I definitely saw the Star Wars light sabers," he said. "I remember when I was younger, I wanted one, and I never got the chance to get one. So I saw there was quite a few of them, and I'm like, that's OK. Somebody's going to get the toy that I wish I had."
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