SOLEDAD, Calif. — Inmates at maximum-security Soledad Prison have raised $544 in a charity drive for the family of a 2 1/2-year-old boy mauled to death by a pit bull terrier.
"It shows a lot of compassion," said Jerry Smith, acting administrative assistant for the prison. "The inmate population is saying, 'We are human. We do feel for those who have had tragedy touch their lives.' "
The collection drive for the family of James Soto was led by Sinclair P. Rhines, a 48-year-old inmate convicted of second-degree murder. The child died June 13 after he wandered into the yard of a next-door neighbor in the Santa Clara County town of Morgan Hill. The dog's owner, Michael Berry, has been charged with second-degree murder.
Death 'Got to Him'
Rhines, other inmates and prison officials presented the toddler's parents, Arthur Soto and Yvonne Nunez, with the fund-raising check at a Wednesday news conference.
"He (Rhines) was very concerned," Arthur Soto said. "He has six children of his own and it (the child's death) got to him. We'll use the money to get the kids some more Christmas presents and some winter clothes."
Rhines, of Louisiana, is serving a 15-year-to-life sentence in the death of Andrew Lawlar, said Smith. Rhines started soliciting money from the prison population in November, and 100 inmates contributed to the fund.
John Gerhardt, the Soto family attorney, said his clients were touched by the gesture.
Father Not Working
"The Sotos were shocked. And frankly, the money came at an opportune time. They've been severely, financially depressed. Mr. Soto has not been able to work as a result of the accident. I know they were very relieved when they heard about (the donation)."
Gerhardt said stress after the child's death and a worsening diabetes condition requiring daily insulin shots have kept Soto from returning to his job as an underground construction worker. He said the Soto family is living in Gilroy on Arthur Soto's state disability checks.
"It's a real Christmas story," Gerhardt said. "It's hard to believe people can be so generous, especially people in that situation. People for some reason think prisoners are a totally different breed of human being and we're not to be concerned with them and they are not to be concerned with us. This showed a lot of feeling."
Smith said an inmate who works a full-time prison job averages just $18 per month, although skilled workers can earn up to $75 per month. He said Rhines earns about $50 per month as lead food server in the prison kitchen.