Christmas celebrations in prison run the spectrum. Many inmates decorate their cells, proudly display the few cards they receive, sing carols loudly in chapel, and enjoy one of the few bountiful meals they are served during the year. An equal number of prisoners tune Christmas out. They say it is a depressing reminder of all that they are not allowed to have or enjoy. They refuse visitors, tear down other inmate’s decorations, refuse to attend chapel, and pass on Turkey and dressing, preferring to sleep through the day. One says, “If I sleep through the whole day, it didn’t occur.” The visitor’s room is packed as families hop on a bus early Christmas morning to spend a few hours visiting their loved one. For many prisoners a visit is a half-full proposition. It’s always wonderful to see one’s spouse and children. On the other hand, they always leave and after they’re gone, their absence tears at your heart.
Seek out an inmate who has spent years in prison and still celebrates Christmas like a little child, and you gain insight. He tells you, “For me Christmas Day brings hope. It allows me to begin another year behind these walls believing that there is some hope for me and the world. A year behind these walls beats you down. The violence, the degradation, and the isolation wear on a man. But Christmas is an annual reminder that there is always hope, and that I’m not forgotten. No matter what they do to me inside these walls, and what I did so very long ago, God loves me and accepts me for who I am now. All I need is Christmas to come, and it always does. Everything is temporary, but Christmas always comes.”