What are holidays like in prison?


A recent post on Quora asked, 'what are holidays like in prison?' We selected a few responses from inmates who are allowed to post online through the San Quentin 'Last Mile' program. Add your own comments below.

Jerome Boone, San Quentin Inmate: Emotionally navigating the holidays in prison can be tricky. I used to deal with the holidays by, literally, hiding --I would pull the bedsheets over my head and try to sleep the day and the emotions carried with it, off. Needless to say, this was no way to go about dealing with anything.

Gratefully, I look at things in a different light these days. Holidays and loved ones! Birthdays are still difficult, but today I face them head on. My loved ones are just as upset about me not being home on the holidays as I am. So why would I call home on X-mas with a sad voice that would only add to their pain? Plus, it's not all about me; holidays are a time for celebration and I don't want to take that away from my children. So I approach holidays as being all about my family's joy and making sure they are having a good day. And focusing on this helps me enjoy the holidays that much more.

Looking back, hiding under the covers was how I dealt with mostly everything. But coming out of the darkness of addiction has helped me to see many things in a different light. And being a curmudgeon on the holidays only adds to the pain of not being at home with my family and friends. So for their sake, and my own...Happy Holidays and I'll be home soon! 

Larry Histon, San Quentin Inmate: Despite decorations that provide a festive ambience, holiday celebrations in most prisons can be depressive and put a prisoner in a bad kind of funk. However, activities like Easter Church Service and Caroling during the Christmas holiday season are the exception. The conditions of incarceration and regret are the contributing factors that attack one's emotions.
 
At the beginning of my prison term in September 1995, I was locked up in a cell 23 hours a day seven days a week for approximately six months before I was placed on the mainline. This kind of isolation, for purposes of observation and classification, occurs at the beginning of a prisoner's term of incarceration. Prisoners like me are held in a part of theprison designated as Reception without access to telephones.
 
In 1995 the only access I had to the outside world was through letters. As a result, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve of 1995, and New Year's Day and Valentine's Day holidays in 1996 were extremely difficult. They were difficult, because of my isolation from family, and feelings of despair and regret that were exacerbated by extremely poor mail service. In some instances, prisoners like me experienced several months delay in receiving mail sent to us by family and friends.
 
Once on the mainline, in approximately late February or March of 1996, with more freedom of movement, access to telephones, better mail service,and a few visits, the isolation from familywas more tolerable during holidays like Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day. But not when it came to Thanksgiving and the Christmas season. It was during those special family oriented holidaysthat I experienced extreme pain, weariness, and loneliness as a result of being separated from my wife and children.
 
Holidays are still difficult, because scenes from television commercials of festive settings, whether it is a couple or family, in a park, sitting in front of a fireplace with snow outside up against the windows, or view of the ocean surf from the beach or a hill top, remind me of my desire for closeness with someone special that won't have when my new life begins. During these times I am pretty hard on myself, after all I placed myself in this situationto be on this emotional roller coaster, and only God knows when this ride will end.

This Dec. 7, 2012 photo shows the church at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, S.D., decorated for Christmas. (AP Photo/Kristi Eaton)
This Dec. 7, 2012 photo shows the church at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, S.D., decorated for Christmas. (AP Photo/Kristi Eaton)

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