I Won't Be Coming Home for Christmas: The Christmas Experience in Prison

For the past eight years, I've lived inside the land of American corrections. First, I spent two years in the custody of the North Carolina Department of Corrections, and I've served six years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. I have four more years to go. I think that this Christmas will be my 8th, but it's been so long that I can't even remember. It certainly feels like it's been longer. Christmas in Prison.

The first Christmas was one of the worst. I found myself incarcerated in North Carolina state prison, at the Polk Youth Detention Center, a place we called "gladiator school" because of the abject violence and culture of brutality. There were no Christmas trees, candy canes, or any of the like, but if memory serves me correctly, there was a stabbing. Merry Christmas.

My second Christmas in prison was perhaps worse than the first. That time, I was at the Morrison Correctional Center, still in North Carolina. This time there was actually a tree, even if only in the Education Department. It wasn't the tree that made it so bad, but the fact that I had recently been in a fight. As such, I was locked in the hole for Christmas. There would be no visits or phone calls home. Christmas Memories.

The next few Christmases were a depressing march. Each year a small fake tree would be placed in my counselor's office, its lights reminded me of Christmases past; ones snuggled up to my dog Zeke, and mom's home-cooked meals. Memories of our traditional Christmas day hike played out in my mind. At the time, all I wanted to do was open presents or play with my latest toys, but dad must have realized that Christmas meant something more than that, and our hikes allowed us to spend some real time together.

Now I look back to these hikes and miss those times. I miss my folks, whom I seldom see because of how far away from home I am. I miss my sister, who has grown distant these last several years. As for Zeke, the poor fella died a few years ago. My constant companion since the 5th grade is gone forever.

It's in these dark times that I relish the few connections to home that still remain. Most years, when possible, I try to at least call. Sometimes my parents even come out to visit around this time of year. And while it doesn't even come close to mom's egg and sausage Christmas brunch, I try to pick up a few seasonal items in my prison's commissary. Is it depressing? Yes. Does it hurt? Yes. But it is all that I have.

This Year.

This year, Christmas will be a bit more lonely than most. Several weeks ago my latest book, College for Convicts (McFarland & Company) was released, and as expected, I was cited by prison officials for "running a business", in response to my writing activities. The Federal Bureau of Prisons often gets angry at my writing (particularly new books), issues incident reports, formally sanctions me, and then, after two or three months, overturns the sanctions. The past five incident reports have been in this vein, the first three expunged in 2012, and I suspect now that I've filed my appeals that the last two will be expunged sometime late this year or early next year. The difference is that this year the sanctions will run through Christmas.

While prison disciplinary hearings are nothing new, not being able to email my folks, or visit with them at Christmas, is. Also new is that I won't be buying any Christmas items in the commissary. I was sanctioned to three months loss of email, visitation and commissary. So my parents can't hug me or send a few extra dollars so that I can buy myself some Christmas snacks from the commissary this year. But then again, perhaps there are those out there who don't think prisoners deserve any kind of Christmas. But to increase morale and get prisoners on the right track for when they leave here, it is an important aspect of keeping them connected with the outside world. Why shouldn't we be able to celebrate time-honored traditions, even in here?

A Message To My Family And Friends

This Christmas I won't be emailing words of encouragement and hope, as I often try to muster the courage to do. I also won't be sending any Christmas cards or pictures. And I most certainly won't be receiving any of those surprise Christmas visits that I have grown to cherish so much.

But even though the creature comforts have been taken away along with the majority of my contact with the outside world, know that I remain steadfast in my beliefs and principles and love for you. Know that we will, yet again, prevail over these retaliatory disciplinary actions. And know that we will one day be together soon. Just because the Grinch once again stole Christmas, they can't take the many more that I'll have with you.