Last year I was “fresh” on my lengthy sentence of 16 years, and Christmas was only 23 days into my approximate 5,840 days. I couldn’t call anyone. All I could do was send letters and cards. I listened to Christmas music every day for the whole month of December. I thought about the Christmases of past, smiled and cried. This year was different. Let me explain my Christmas this year.
The week before Christmas, the prison system got us a huge bag of lots of goodies and on the same day, a KFC Chicken Finger plate / dinner. Then, that night an excellent Christmas program by the Exodus Church Choir from Hickory, NC. Then, Christmas week came at the TV schedule was filled with Christmas movies and we had off three days for Christmas break. Me and 4 other guys made a huge table full of nachos on Christmas Eve. Christmas morning, I drank Hot Chocolate and watched the movie, “A Christmas Story.” Went outside at 1:00 p.m. and played Ultimate Frisbee in the mud. Got wet and muddy and had loads of fun. Came inside, played cards, called my family (highlight of Christmas), then smashed some Oreos, chocolate chip cookies and milk on Christmas night.
However, something was different about this Christmas than last. I believe it was the people watching and realizations and the struggles that I observed around me. This year, I was around people that I have been around for almost a year now. This one simple factor changes everything. See, when you live, work, eat, sleep, go outside with the same people 24/7, you learn things about them.
You see when they are happy, sad, angry, and so on. Well, Christmas, which is normally a joyful day, is one of the worst days out of the year for most prisoners. I am not going to go into depth on the theology of Christmas or the secular traditions; let’s just focus on how Christmas brings families together. Most prisoners don’t like Christmas because they can’t be with their families. I understand that and can sympathize with them. It is hard. I am not going to lie. There were times when I wanted to cry. But I found myself opening up my “house” for guests; taking on and listening to others’ struggles, sadness, frustrations at this time of the year.
Henri Nouwen, in his book, “The Wounded Healer,” talks about how we need to, as Christian leaders, face our loneliness, sadness, past and let go of them to make space for others. We are all Christian leaders by the way. One of the guys that I shared my Oreos and Chocolate Chip Cookies with was having an absolutely terrible Christmas.
Our block got to use the phone on Christmas. He told his Mom he was going to call Christmas morning. When his time slot came, he called everyone in his phone book and no one answered. You can imagine how having his expectations not met was hard for him. He became very angry then calmed down a bit.
Then the night shift said that if there was enough time at the end, that he could try. There was enough time, but then the officers backed out on their word and didn’t let him try, making things worse. So like the chick in the chick flicks, I brought him a tub of ice cream (in this case a whole bunch of cookies) and we ate our (mainly his) sorrows away. It was the moment of Christmas where I put “me” aside and focused on him. Opened my house up for a guest. It was the moment when I didn’t mention the wonderful phone call I had with my family. Sometimes we need to… actually most of the time we need to, forget about “me” and focus on others. Also, the best medicine is love and ears to listen. You don’t have to give them advice, just listen and love. It makes a huge difference!
I love you all!