It should surprise no one that incarcerated people struggle during the holidays.
Despair and loneliness, regret and self-loathing—these emotions characterize the experience of many people inside this time of year. It’s not hard to imagine why. Locked away from friends and family, from parents, siblings and children, incarcerated people have little option but to try and make the best of an unbearable situation.
Here from the Prison Journalism Project, is Heather Jarvis, who is writing from prison where she has lived for the past nine years about why she doesn’t call home on Christmas:
I hate calling home on holidays. Not because I don’t miss my family, not because the phone lines are forever long, not because my family doesn’t want me to. It simply hurts to call.
It hurts to hear my family together. If by chance they aren’t, it hurts even more because I long to be the one who keeps us together. I blame myself for their distance. I want to pull my family back together, so it hurts when they take for granted the blessing of simply being around each other. If only they knew how much I would cherish the bickering, my Aunt Tracy’s gravy, our homemade noodles crafted by members of four generations. I daydream about the flour, the fallen meringue, a trashed kitchen after a day well used. I daydream until it hurts. That is why I don’t call. I can’t imagine not being there.
If I pretend it is a normal day, I get through it. The chow hall attempts a better meal than usual but always fails. Sometimes they play a movie, and the lights get dimmed. Mostly I sleep on holidays. I have slept through nine years of holidays. I have refused to acknowledge I am not there.
But this is my last season away. It is harder because it is so close. I feel anxious, like a little kid on Christmas Eve. I can’t sleep. It’s so close it hurts.
There are 2,151 women in Indiana prisons. Some are teenagers, but most of whom are mothers. According to studies, about four percent of newly admitted women are pregnant. Nature never stops, but nurture is interrupted when women go to prison, leaving children with relatives if they're lucky. If they are not lucky, their children are placed in foster care, adding to the omnipresent guilt and remorse. They might get a visit, but often they do not, and it’s not just this Christmas, but for many, it is years of sad Christmases to come.
So, when you look around at your own family this Christmas, I hope you see the things that Heather saw in her mind’s eye when she thought about being home: The blessing of family, the funny idiosyncrasies of each person, the food, the traditions, and most of all, the gift of being together, and if life has not led you to a prison sentence, consider yourself blessed.
May you be surrounded by family this Christmas,