Unacknowledged Victims of the DOC
I wanted to take a moment to wish every person a warm Thanksgiving. I say that as a person who has lost several Thanksgivings while in prison. I say that understanding that there are people with loved ones in prison and holidays like this can be nothing but a harsh reminder being separated from someone you love.
Believe me, holidays like this can be very difficult to deal with, whether you are outside the prison with a loved one behind the walls, or an inmate behind the walls, with a family outside. Itís not easy at all, and can create some stress. So is it possible to find well wishes during this time of year? Yes, and I want to share that with you.
When I was in prison in NC, the holiday of Thanksgiving affects everyone, inmate, officers, case managers and everyone working in DOC. After all, they are all there. And itís like some officers told me, itís like they are doing time with us since they are there with us. From the officerís point of view, they have to spend Thanksgiving with us, or at least 8 hours of it. The higher ranked officers may not have to see any inmates, but the regular officers do. Because of this, prisons must seriously consider the mental welfare of the inmate. How safe are those officers if they have to look over hundreds of over-stressed inmates?
Because of this, many prisons try to develop ways to entertain the inmates, or at least give them some sense of good morale. In the prisons I have been in, they might have contests with prizes. They might have a ping-pong tournament, or a Monopoly, UNO, Stratego or whatever tournament. The winner might get a bag of canteen, or something like that. Other prisons might also have an essay contest with an appropriate theme.
Most prisons will also have a traditional Thanksgiving meal, usually served at lunch. As a guy that worked in the kitchen at a few camps, I know this is quite true. The actual fixings will depend from one camp to another, some being more generous than others. One of the best Thanksgiving meals I ever had was at a small camp in Sanford, NC (maybe it was because I worked in the kitchen, and we got extra).
I am not trying to say this will have every inmate happy and in great spirits, but I submit to you it helps a little. But what also helps as an inmate get through such times is that he is not physically alone. Try to get what I am saying here; yes it is hard during the holidays, but as an inmate I took some comfort that I was also surrounded by hundreds of other guys that felt the same way. We all had something in common; we werenít home for Thanksgiving. And maybe because of that we kinda had some level of respect for another. Inmates can talk to each other, and kinda get some comfort, although it actually is rare to talk about the holiday itself. We kinda tried not to talk about it, but no one could deny that it was existing. Some inmates took it harder than others, but in many cases we can get through it ok. Many inmates (depending on custody level) can call home and talk to a loved one. It helps.
Again, I am not trying to convince you that every inmate in prison is dancing in joy; in fact if any are, they need help. But I am trying to share with you that they can make it through the holidayÖso what about YOU?
So many loved ones who visit prison support sites and forums are so worried about their loved ones, and nothing brings this out greater than the holidays. Especially a family-oriented holiday like Thanksgiving. This year, I expect lots of football, food, family, fellowship and friendship (there, did I get all the fís in?).
But for you, and those outside the wall worried about a loved one, this can tear you up from the inside out. It can really destroy the holiday if you spend it crying, sulking and missing a loved one. How can someone dare have the nerve to wish you a happy Thanksgiving when you have a loved one in prison?
How can you be thankful for anything? How can you celebrate thanks when there will be an empty chair where that loved one should be? I grant you, itís hard, so very hard. But I want you to understand the importance of how you feel. It is vital that you understand how an inmateís rehabilitation can directly be affected by how you feel.
Inmates need to know that you miss them, but they donít want you torn up and beaten down. I want you to see it from another angle. If you are always depressed, it will take a fixed residence in your heart, and as the saying goes, from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The more depressed you are, and the longer you are depressed, it will sooner or later be shown when you either visit, get that call or write that letter.
Inmates are calling on all their reserves to try to make it through a difficult holiday, and the last thing they need to add to a heavy day is the idea that the people they love the most are feeling miserable. Itís one thing to know you are missed, but when you get the idea that your mom, dad, sister, brother, spouse, or whatever is crying because they miss you, it makes the inmate feel absolutely miserable. This can tear an inmate up from the inside, knowing they canít help you when you need them the most. That is a burden I donít wish on any inmate because that is far more than overwhelming.
If you have a loved one in prison, and are sending a letter, card, or expect a call or expect to visit them this weekend, keep that in mind. I am not saying you have to sound like you won a million dollars when you talk to them. You can be real in letting them know how much you miss them, or wish they were there. But you must reinforce the fact that will be ok, and encourage them to hang in there. I cannot tell you how so very, very important that is to let them know that. Those will be the things they remember after the visitation is over, after they hang up the phone, and after reading that card/letter two or three times. Itís the thoughts they carry the rest of the day, and as they go to sleep, and when they wake up.
In a way, you give them a reason to be thankful.
So try to have a happy thanksgiving. I know it isnít easy, and I donít expect anyone to turn flips if they have a loved one in prison, but at least take it into account that it is one more day you can be thankful for, and take heart that the inmate is thinking about you, and concerned that you are too worried for them. Let them know you are ok, and you miss them, but remember to let them know that you are there for them.
Have a happy Thanksgiving.
If you have advice for the families,
Contact me, Kay Lee ,
2683 Rockcliff Road S.E.
Atlanta, Georgia 30316