Holidays in Prison

Holidays in prison are tricky. Some people throw themselves into them with a manic energy that transcends the desperate. Others, like myself, see them as an annoying speed bump, interrupting school or other programming.

Regardless of one’s reaction, holidays are, above all else, a source of stress above and beyond the normal for people in prison. This means that, on top of the obvious stress which comes with the holidays (acute sense of separation from loved ones, the memories of past holidays both good and bad, the disruption of routine), there is also a concern (greater for those who get visits on holidays) that the stress of being in prison will be too much for someone else to handle and they will get in a fight or self harm and in doing so cause everything to be delayed and canceled as c/o’s have to handle the latest crisis.

Assuming nothing interesting happens, this is what my New Year’s, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Fourth if July look like:

On New Year’s, Christmas, and Fourth of July I wake up late (around 9:30-ish) and take a shower. On Thanksgiving our yoga instructors make a point of always being here so I wake up and get some self care. They also show up on other holidays, but since yoga is scheduled for Thursdays and Fridays, Thanksgiving yoga has become a bit of a tradition.

They start serving lunch around 11:30 and is the special big holiday meal. Real meat and actual dessert are the headliners. There’s other stuff too, but the side dishes are just the usual fare from other meals. For example: the stuffing at Thanksgiving is the same as is served twice a month with the “meatloaf.” I will grant that the gravy we are normally served is dependably good, but otherwise much is left to be desired.

Fourth of July: Cheeseburger, 2 hotdogs, and ice cream.
Thanksgiving: Turkey (of course) and pumpkin pie.
Christmas: Roast beef and sweet potato pie.
New Year’s: Turkey, vanilla ice cream, and whatever pie happens to be picked by CI food services that year. Last year it was pumpkin pie, year before that was forgettable, but two years ago was cherry.

These meals are especially extra special because they are the only time that we get to take as much time as we like to eat. Normally we only get 10-15 minutes even though policy says we are supposed to get 20. Most people take about 30 minutes to eat on a holiday so serving everyone takes a while.

This year, Fourth of July came with a new bonus: we had the option of taking our meal out to the big yard and having a picnic. Apparently this will happen next year as well, weather permitting.

After lunch (around 1:30), I’ll either go to yard to walk or take a shower then collapse into a food coma and sleep.

Dinner is a sack lunch containing a sandwich, chips, and either cookies or a muffin which we pick up after we’re done eating lunch. The sandwich is almost always PB and J. If it’s not then we get processed sliced turkey, either with or without artificial flavors added. The chips are either plain Lays potato chips, or regular Sun Chips. And the dessert is made by CI and quite forgettable. (Except when it’s really bad, then you wish you could forget it!)

After evening count, there’s usually a second round of yard from 6:00 to 8:30 and that’s it for the holiday.

I make a point of calling my people a day or two before any given holiday because the phones are crazy busy (for obvious reasons), and if I someone wanted to visit me for the holiday, I ask them to come either the week before or after the holiday because the visiting room is super crowded (again, for obvious reasons) and I make for a poor conversationalist when forced to sit in a room stuffed full of people like that.

Of course a lot of people go the other direction with it. To them, visits on or near a holiday are extra special not just because they are getting to spend the holiday with their loved ones, but because the visiting room hosts holiday themed “family friendly events.” These themed events extend to more than just the holidays listed above; they also include Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, back to school, and Halloween events.

To many, these are special moments that help them cope with their incarceration. To people like myself, they are too much to bear thinking about. Some beg their visitors to come and join in the festivities. Others ask their visitors to come at literally any other time. Some need a break from the daily grind of life in prison. Others find it unbearably difficult to return to that grind after having been free of it for a fleeting moment.

Some need an explosion of flavor every now and then. But myself, I need the weeks to blur together a little, to be softened by their blandness. While my time may not pass any more quickly, the memory of a decade’s worth of day after day after day after day spent in a cage fearing the next interesting moment is less painful to carry.

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