Brian Boynton tried to reach a tattooed fist inside the sturdy gingerbread house.
"My hand's too big," said the 19-year-old Douglas County Jail trusty.
"Let me try it," said supervisor Andrea Lombard, who runs the jail kitchen.
She skillfully placed two tiny sets of battery-operated lights inside the window of the candy-coated structure.
"There," she said. "It's dark inside the museum, and this way we'll have some light."
By 11 a.m. Monday, the gingerbread house was ready for delivery to the Carson Valley Museum & Cultural Center in Gardnerville.
When Lombard learned about the gingerbread-house-decorating contest - sponsored by the Carson Valley Arts Council - she decided to round up a kitchen crew of jail trusties.
"I want to give a chance to the inmates to do something better," she said. "I want them to learn something different, rather than all the time being in trouble. I want them to learn something good."
Douglas County Arts Council member Dennis Robert Little said the group has received 14 applications, and thought it was fantastic that there was an entry from the jail.
"It just goes to show there is an inner artisan in all of us," Little said.
Boynton, whose release date is the day after Christmas, came up with the design.
"I just worked it out in my head," he said.
The roof of the gingerbread house is covered with frosted Shredded Mini-wheats. Lombard brought more than a dozen boxes of holiday candy, including delicate ribbon candy, gumdrops, M&Ms and tiny gingerbread men who parade up a snowy sidewalk made of white frosting.
She estimated the gingerbread house took 20 pounds of flour.
"We eat more than we work," said inmate Rosalie Benvin as she popped a candy in her mouth.
"I've waited tables and done a little cooking, but I've never made a gingerbread house," Benvin, 38, said.
Lombard, who grew up in her mother's cooking academy in Argentina, said she peeled her first potato when she was 3.
She was the pastry chef at Stanford University, and worked at jails in Summit County, Colo., and in Utah.
She was hired at the Douglas County Jail in September.
Lombard and her crew prepare three meals a day for 100 adult and juvenile inmates.
She works from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., but on Monday, she came in at 4 a.m. to finish the gingerbread house.
"I know people think inmates make bad choices, and they do," she said. "But this is a chance to do something fun. It's Christmas and everybody is sad because they are here without their families."
Boynton, in jail on drug charges, said it was his first attempt at cooking. While he enjoyed it, his talents lie elsewhere.
"I'm going back to roofing," he said.
After the contest, the gingerbread house will be on display in the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.
Winners of the contest will be announced Dec. 17 at the museum's artists' reception.
Ribbons and awards will be presented in several categories including best of show, best holiday theme and most creative, most whimsical and best depiction of an actual building or establishment.
The contest is co-sponsored by Artistic Viewpoint Gallery & Studio and JT Basque Bar and Dining Room.
n Contact reporter Sheila Gardner at email@example.com.