Christmas is obviously a festive time of year, a time where many family members get together to enjoy robust meals, open presents, and share good ole’ rare quality time. This is the time of year people tend to let bygones be bygones, differences become trivial, and allow their love for one another to rule the day. This is the season of giving, cheerful volunteering, and routinely putting others before ourselves. Who wouldn’t love this time of year? I have an answer.
Prisons across this vast country incarcerate over 2.3 million people – PEOPLE! This means tens of millions of people are directly affected by this epidemic. This means countless children wake up on Christmas mornings to open gifts with one parent there to watch their shining faces as they rip open packages of their favorite toys, while the other (in most cases Daddy) sits in a cell, heartbroken that he has missed out on yet another Christmas Day with his family. If he’s lucky, he’ll get to make a limited phone call later in the day to wish his family a merry Christmas, but many are not even afforded this luxury.
I have been incarcerated for fifteen years, and I am beyond blessed to have had the love of my family for the entire time. Others around me, however, have not been as blessed. It breaks my heart to see so many men for so many years go without even a single phone call on Christmas. They have no one to call; they have no family to answer on the other end, no family to send them a Christmas card, no family to come visit them. They routinely go through this time of year projecting as though they are unfazed by their lack of family support, but when you’ve been around these people every day, year after year, their pain is evidently written all over their faces, in their voices.
It’s also quite amazing, however, the camaraderie I have witnessed over the last decade and a half that is especially prominent during this time of year. Guys come together unlike any other time of the year to piece together assortments of canteen ingredients to prepare spreads, burritos, nachos, and any other fine prison cuisine they can think of. The banter is louder, the playing is more, well, playful, and the overall mood is palpably more jovial. It’s certainly no equal replacement for time spent with our families, but the surrogate families that are created in prison and on full display during the holiday season is encouraging and dare I say even heartwarming. It is, in fact, all that many guys (and women) in here have to look forward to, accepting they have nothing to look forward to from the outside world during this season.
Still, many others are fortunate enough to receive visits – even on Christmas itself – and cards to remind them they are still loved, important, and dearly missed. But then I am forced to think about the impact on the family that comes to see their confined loved one. How do they feel when they leave him/her behind while they return home to eat their Christmas dinner, and open more gifts? And how do they answer the man or woman’s four-year old who repeatedly asks why Daddy or Mommy is not able to be home for this special day?
For those of you who have a family member incarcerated and are in a position to support him or her through their hardship, please know they appreciate your devotion more than they can ever express. I thank you for giving them the invaluable gift of knowing they still matter, despite the rest of the world having essentially forgotten they even exist. For those of you who know someone incarcerated but haven’t, for whatever reason, found time or energy to write, visit, or send a card in years, I strongly encourage you to find a way to do so this holiday season. The gesture would be met with indescribable gratitude. As mentioned earlier, I, personally, am grateful for the unwavering support my family has shown and continues to show through my plight; others in this horrid situation are not as fortunate. Therefore, it is my solemn plea to all who read this and know someone who is incarcerated to send a card, letter, or visit during this precious holiday season. This is all I want for Christmas.