There was no stocking hung by the chimney, with or without care. There were no chestnuts roasting by an open fire. (Actually, an open fire would probably be good for another year or two.) I didn’t set out any cookies or milk for Santa, either because someone would have eaten the cookies and drank the milk and it would have been the fat man. It might have been A fat man, but not THE fat man.
There was a Christmas decoration contest within the individual Housing Units, although I’m not sure how that went because the memo never made it to our bulletin board and I didn’t become aware of the said contest until Friday the 17th. The judging was to be on Monday the 20th. No one seemed to care, which is okay. I received quite a few cards (for which I am grateful) and taped them around the inside frame in my cell. (Something that wasn’t allowed, but no one saw it – they are gone now but not forgotten). I don’t know who did win, or what they got, but I try not to let what anyone else does affect me, and if someone did put forth an effort and received acknowledgment of some sort, then God bless them!
There were some decorations in the “courtyard” between the administration building and the dining hall. There is a raised hexagon planter about 15’ across in the center of the “courtyard” which does pass going to the dining hall, the library or laundry, as well as the building that houses all of the people who make the prison run.
There were some icicle lights draped over the edge of the planter all the way around, a decorated tree on the side that could be viewed by people in the Admin Building, as well as the classic Santa Claus scene, consisting of a Santa standing by a flat bottomed boar being pulled by 2 grinning alligators, all cut out of plywood brightly painted and trimmed with lights.
There were also some decorated tables and railings in the dining hall next to the security line, and window decorations in the chapel.
South Central Louisiana is located far enough north for the grass to turn brown in the winter and far enough south for the trees to stay green – most of them anyway.
The temperature swings wildly from the 30s one day to the 60s the next. But more often or not, the days are reasonably comfortable, although not quite a Christmas climate, but then again, I lived 5 years in South Florida and 12 years in Dallas prior to that so weather wise it is pretty much what I am used to.
The razor wire and the boys in khaki added a new twist to the season, however.
But it was what is was, and while it was far from ideal, it was my Christmas and I was determined it was going to be thankful, and thankful it was, and thankful I am, and thankful I remain.
Christmas, for most of the inmates perspective centered around 2 thinks: the holiday meal and the “holiday bag”. Oh yes, what a stir the “holiday bag” creates.
Some – no, many – of the fellow khaki clad convicts will complain about anything. The sense of entitlement and the classification of everything is “a right” is strong. Strong, sometimes to the point of being an insult to the intelligence of any rational member of the human race.
The “holiday bag” is a sealed plastic bag full of carious chips and cookies, munchies and crunchies, TGI Friday was there with Potato Skins, and Burger King made an appearance with “onion rings”. There were pecan shortbread cookies, Hot n’ Spicy Cheese Its, and awesome big bar of milk chocolate (my personal favorite) and assorted other goodies like “lemonheads” and some really unpleasant sweet n’ sour twisted thingies.
A vertical plethora of goodness that was criticized for more for what is wasn’t in it than for what was.
There seemed to be a disagreement over whether it was a bigger than last year or not, and since I wasn’t here last year I had no such opinion. The bag was a nice gesture, I thought. Probably set the taxpayer back several million dollars to provide them for the whole B.O.P.
My problem lies not with the bag itself, for its not the gift that matters, correct? It’s supposed to be the thought that counts and it was the manner in which the gifts were distributed that out a damper on what could have been a symbol of kindness, humanity, and the spirit of the season.
Wednesday, December 22nd the day “the bags” were to be distributed. The day dawned with clear skies and temps projected to be in the 60s, after the noon meal which was the time established for the event.
Unit by unit, beginning with the one I live in, we were released and headed out, single file, to receive our goodies. From the unit e could see that most, if not all, of the prison staff had turned out for the event.
We walked through ‘the key’ which is the control point separating the housing portion of the compound from all of the other facilities.
At the key, we were instructed to go down the sidewall to the left and enter the dining hall through the west side. Of course, not too many people call it the west side – to most, it is the Black side, which of course meant we would be exiting on the East, or – anyone?, anyone? – that’s right, the white side!.
As it happened, I was pretty close to the front of the line, and as we walked closer I could see a group of people outside the door and I turned to my friend Rob and said “ oh look, the Warden is there and they all must be lined up to wish us a Merry Christmas”.
Not a person in the group of 8 or so individuals (all highly ranked officials) even so much as looked at us, let alone wish us a happy anything.
We opened up the door and were met with the one of the bands that used the music room, playing Christmas tunes. I like Christmas music, I mean who doesn’t? So that was a nice touch. They had cleaned some tables out of the way and they were off to our right facing the serving line where a group of inmates was placing freshly baked cookies in little white bags for us to pick up as we moved closer to “the prize”.
There were more officers and staff lining the route we were traveling, more gazes averted, more uncomfortable shuffling in place. One person did look up and catch my eye and I said “Merry Christmas” with a big smile. He seemed slightly unsure and hesitated for just a moment before saying “Merry Christmas” back.
Maybe they all felt comfortable thinking any of us had anything to be happy about. Maybe they didn’t think us deserving of the gifts we were about to receive. I don’t know and probably never will, but I kept a smile on my face, joy in my heart, and an eye out for someone willing to share my good cheer as I continued through the line.
Of course, the inmates bagging the cookies all responded when I wished them a Merry Christmas.
After picking up the cookies, we were handed a rather large and extremely tasking Styrofoam cup of hot chocolate. And then we headed for the last stop, the big prize, the piece of resistance, the crowning glory of this precious moment – “the bag”.
“The bag” was located just outside the “white side door”, and the remaining office staff in attendance were out there with the same uncomfortable looks and stances as most of the others.
We were handed our bag full of goodies and turned right to head back to our unit where everyone ate their cookies, drank our hot chocolate, and opened their ‘presents’. There would be much trading and ‘buying & selling” of whole bags or individual items over the next couple of days.
Personally, I missed sneaking down the stairs, peering around the corner, and seeing the treasures left by the mysterious old fellow known as “Santa”, seeing the trains, bicycles, wagons and dollhouses that were somehow assembled by Santa as he munched the cookies and drank the milk that we left by the chimney.
Christmas sure as changed – but certainly not all in bad ways.
I’ll tell you about that Day of Peace, Joy and Love, from an inmate’s perspective, next time.