In an exclusive interview, the Hayward woman held for a 90-day sentence in the Freeborn County Jail after her conviction for violating Gov. Timothy J. Walz’s executive order banning indoor restaurant service told The Minnesota Sun about her Christmas behind bars.

“Merry Christmas! I am doing well by the grace of our Lord,” said Melissa “Lisa” Hanson, whose Interchange Wine and Coffee Bistro was an institution here for the years before the state charged here for violating the Walz orders, followed by the city’s decision to shut down her restaurant and let her lease expire at the end of the year.

“The staff is very kind; the food is mostly better than decent, it’s actually pretty good, and I am very thankful for that. I’m learning to sleep with the light on – LOL – my roommates are some pretty special ladies,” said Hanson about her accommodations.

“I have received great support while being here in the way of cards, letters, finances and books,” she said.

Hanson said she was grateful for the opportunity to connect with relatives Christmas Day.

“It’s a blessing to be able to text and call – I spoke with most of my family,” she said. “It was a joy to hear their happy voices. I miss them, I’ve put myself in the hands of the Lord, and it seems this is where he has me for a time.”

Hanson said there was a Christmas observance at the jail.

“The food is pretty decent,” she said. “We did receive Christmas dinner: mashed potatoes & gravy, ham, stuffing, and cake. Pastors were available for religious services. I took part in a Zoom service and an in-person service. I understand the week prior; the men had the opportunity to attend a service.”

Requests for early release

The jailed restaurateur said she is concerned about the extensive damage to her family farm suffered in a recent storm, and she asked to be allowed to go home to address the wreckage.

“I was recently denied a petition for emergency furlough, so I would have the availability to tend to the destruction wreaked on our 3.5 acres after the recent storm that moved through,” she said.

“There was quite a lot of damage to all the buildings,” she said. “We lost the totality of our 1960’s hip roof barn. Fortunately, the house only incurred minor damage – we think – waiting to have the roof checked.”

City Attorney Kelly D. Martinez, who prosecuted Hanson on behalf of the state, opposed the release, Hanson said.

“The prosecutor recommended against the furlough,” she said. “No surprise there. The judge denied it. Again, no surprise.” The judge in the case is Judge Joseph A. Bueltel, who was appointed to the bench by Gov. Jesse “The Body” Ventura in 2002 to fill a vacancy.

At sentencing, Martinez recommended Hanson be held for 10 days with 80 days stayed, but Bueltel insisted on Hanson serving the full 90 days. If Hanson was sentenced to the 10 days in the county jail, she would have been freed four days before Christmas.

The next step is federal court, she said.

“I have petitioned the U.S District Court with a writ of habeas corpus and hope to hear back early in the week with a positive reply,” she said.

“My husband has received great support in cleaning up the property,” she said.

“Sounds like we have a long way to go, but the help was incredible.”

The case is Melissa Hanson v. the State of Minnesota, No. 24-CR-21-137 in Freeborn County District Court.

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Neil W. McCabe is the national political reporter for The Star News Network. Send him news tips: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @neilwmccabe2.