Surviving Christmas in Prison

PRISONERSWell, it is that time of year again. In prison, the time between Thanksgiving and New Years is an especially tough time. The feelings of isolation and loneliness are intensified and we’re reminded daily that our families are having to make it on their own. I spent five holiday seasons in jails and prisons and will be the first to admit that those days were the hardest and most challenging to walk through with a spirit of joy and love.

So how can you not just survive, but prosper during this time? First, be sure to find some way to serve others. I always picked out a couple of guys I knew didn’t have any help from the outside or make much money inside and gave them some goodies and toiletries from the commissary. This helps to take your mind off yourself and focus it on others.

Second, don’t become bitter. I’ve seen so many guys use the holidays as an excuse to foment anger and bitterness. Of course, many guys didn’t need an excuse. The holidays are a great time to work on learning more about character, discipline and sacrifice. Use the time to write, read, work out, even learn a new skill. This will not only make you a better person, but it will keep your mind off of the challenges of being in prison in the holidays.

Third, communicate with your friends and family. I sent out probably 40 Christmas cards each year. I would buy them from guys in the unit who made cards. Some of my family still have them six years later. Staying in touch helps you to feel connected and a part of something bigger than yourself and prison.

Finally, and most importantly, remember the reason for the season. As a Christian, it was important to focus on celebrating the birth of Jesus and not get caught up in the commercial aspects of the holiday. Attend worship services, performances and concerts as they are available. This helped me to keep things in perspective and not feel sorry for myself. Hard to feel sad when your mind is on the Lord and Savior.

Book – Prison Ramen

Prison-Ramen_editFood is a significant part of the prison experience. Some guys spend a lot of their time cooking up interesting concoctions. Some guys even sell their dishes as part of their “hustle” to make money. I’ve seen guys sell cheese cake, pizzas, brownies, Ramen soups, suckers and more made entirely of things they either bought from the commissary or stolen from the chow hall. While I haven’t read the book, Prison Ramen, it sounds like an interesting collection of anecdotes and recipes from prison. I’ll try to get a copy and pass along a review. Until then, if you do read it, please feel free to post your review here.