Christmas in Prison
by Crane-Station for Frog Gravy
Christmas card from prison commissary that I sent to my family for Christmas, 2008.
Partially completed Blue Jay, prison art. I was not able to complete this drawing, because of the poor quality of the made-in-Indonesia colored pencils from prison commissary. The pencils broke, and the colors were not what they were labeled to be. It would not have mattered anyway; the prison stamped the drawing as you can see, to indicate that this was “Inmate mail.”
KCIW PeWee Valley, Christmas, 2008
While families across the country gather to exchange gifts, attend services, and enjoy the lights, food and decorations, we are gathered and silent, in the day room of Ridgeview Dormitory, waiting for our names to be called so that we can receive our Christmas gifts.
The gift is a Christmas card, handed to us each personally by the Ridgeview House Mother, Mary. Everyone receives the same card. For many, this is the only Christmas gift they will receive. We are thankful for this card.
Some women who trick write, will receive financial gifts from sugar daddies.
Christmas in prison is Christmas ruined because the pain of family separation is magnified. Women miss their grandchildren’s first Christmas, or their parent’s last Christmas, as was the case with my friend Sarah, whose father committed suicide two days after Christmas.
We miss our families. But what do we miss, exactly? We miss the innocence and awe of our childhood Christmases, I think. We chase and chase this rose-colored-glasses version of happier times, until we stop. Because it will never be that way again.
Many choose to continue the fantasy of family reunion. Of childhood excitement. Of joy. Of sleds and snow and kitchen baking smells, and opening presents early on Christmas Eve. We chase and chase the fantasy until we are too tired to chase it anymore and we must accept that we are unwanted. We must accept that it is possible for family love to stop. Even if we cannot understand, we must accept it.
Others widen the chasm from the outset and extend the geography and psychological valleys of separation because not to do so is too painful. These are the realistic women, I think. They are able to accept the end of love and move on to something else.
How does one accept the unacceptable? “You cannot live in here and out there at the same time,” other inmates tell me. “Do the time and do not let the time do you.” The women who tell me these things are wise women, I think. They are wise because they have let go of something I cannot turn loose of: regret.
When I was a child I loved snow globes. I broke one once, but I refused to believe that it was broken. I squeezed my eyes shut tight and prayed for it to magically come back. Each time I opened my eyes, the plastic globe remained broken on the floor, the liquid spreading. That is what Christmas is like in prison. No matter what you do, no matter how much you pray, no matter what you do not do, your life is still in shards. One time in my adult life I was within a mile of my childhood home. I kept on driving. Because to stop would have broken the fantasy that you can go home again and things will be the same.
When my name is called, I thank Mary for the card. But I cannot stop longing for my snow globe.