In prison, there’s one special day when seemingly the whole prison is celebrating. There are games to be played and food to be made. The entire atmosphere is completely transformed on this day. Even the workers in the kitchen are given half the day off.
For dinner, prisoners are given a thawed out gas station-like sub sandwich in a sealed plastic bag. It doesn’t matter though, because this is the biggest food day of the year. Prisoners make big plans for this event and purchase plenty of food for the party and cook all day long.
Of course, I’m talking about the Super Bowl. Besides that, there are really only two holidays that are observed, Christmas and Thanksgiving. For those, the prison provides a special breakfast and a turkey dinner.
Other than those two, holidays carry little to no fanfare in prison. Columbus Day and the Fourth of July might affect one’s work schedule, but that’s about it. A few times before the Fourth or the 24th of July, a sign-up sheet to watch fireworks was posted on the community board in the section. Obviously, there are no fireworks shows, but there’s usually some new inmate not in on the joke who will print their name, sign the paper, and receive the appropriate ridicule and laughter at their expense.
The Fourth of July is probably my favorite holiday just because I love the time of year and summer nights outdoors (something a prisoner never experiences). I’m not really a fan of Christmas, specifically the tradition of gift giving. I’d prefer to just give gifts to children. Like when you’re too old to go trick-or-treating on Halloween, you should stop accepting presents as well. I believe the cons on gift exchange outweigh the pros for both sides; then again, there is a positive economic impact to consider ... I guess.
Still, I could go without, and at the same time this might be the best Christmas ever for me. I’m really going to enjoy the time with family more than I have in the past. Not only because I have no in-laws to split time with, but because I will not be taking my family for granted. Prison helped me appreciate what’s important.
I made the mistake of calling my family on the first Thanksgiving I was in prison. My mom answered the phone and asked me what I needed. I could hear the commotion in the background and my brother’s voice. Everyone was still pretty unhappy with me at that time. I had foolishly imagined the phone being passed around and me getting to speak with my siblings for the first time in almost a year.
The reality was my mom was the only one who was even willing to answer the phone and talk to me. After we exchanged a Happy Thanksgiving, my mother said, “Well if you don’t need anything I’ve got things to do, time is money” — referring to the criminal amount the prison charges families for collect calls. I’m sure the call didn’t run into the rate by minute, as the $3.50 connection fee covered the whole first minute, whether we used it or not.
There was a time when I had not known whether or not I would have any relationship with most of my family. My circumstances have changed drastically in these past four years, and so have I. I share my story still, because it is a happy one — no longer just a cautionary tale. I want those families with a loved one in the grips of addiction to hold out hope. People can and do change.