I had broken the rules, been a bad boy. At least the officer said that I had. Usually a simple accusation is enough to prove guilt. Another reminder of just who is in charge behind these prison walls. It would not be a particularly merry Christmas for me. Or, so I thought.
Christmas in prison, like everywhere else in the civilized world, is a markedly festive time. Also like many places, food is heavily entwined with the festivities. Commissary added holiday themed treats for a limited time while turkey and stuffing manages to be smuggled back from the chow hall by intrepid kitchen workers who sell it for a reasonable price. I’d be unable to partake in any of these goodies. No commissary for me. No gym either. No phone privileges. A blue Christmas.
A Raw Deal
My buddies all expressed shock and disbelief at my predicament. Many of them had known me for close to five years and had never before seen me in such serious trouble. They not only knew my character, but were also well acquainted with the demeanor and reputation of the CO who had accused me of wrongdoing. I got the raw end of the deal, but there was nothing to be done. I just had to go without and endure the month of deprivations. By the end of which time the limited supply of scrumptious seasonal items would be long gone.
No one likes a complainer. I resolved to keep my mouth shut and stoically accept the conditions of my inappropriate punishment. When the rest of the guys in my building shopped I received my own shock which left me in a state of disbelief.
The Kindness of Criminals
One of my closest pals gave me a bag of coffee to see me through the month, and four large bags of mixed nuts—my absolute favorite, and only available around Christmas. He also included some sweets, cheesy rice and ramen noodles in the care package. All told it was over twenty-five dollars of merchandise. He’s locked up for criminal sexual assault. One murderer gave me a limited time only bag of Christmas sugar cookies. Another murderer gave me a bag of nacho cheese flavored corn chips. A murderer, who ran a store out of his box, fronted me some food and sweets with the understanding that I need not pay the taxes on them, only replace the items I’d borrowed.
An arsonist made sure I had plenty of ramen noodles, as well as providing envelopes so I could send out my mail. On Christmas Day one of the cooks in the chow hall who had been convicted for dealing crack cocaine, gifted me with a generous amount of turkey. Another kitchen worker who I had known for several years, and whose crime was retail theft and aggravated battery, knew how much I loved the cornmeal stuffing, and he smuggled a big bag of it in for me. His only stipulation was that I enjoy it.
One of my cellies, a convicted child molester, cooked meals several times and shared a portion of each one with me. Whenever he opened the packaging on one of the Christmas items from commissary, he would unfailingly let me taste some of it with him. Usually there are perhaps four or five holiday items, but this particular year the powers that be decided to spoil us, and there were a dozen different delicacies available for purchase. Thanks to the kindness of criminals I got to sample them all.
Other men helped me as well, all of whom have labels like drug-dealer, thief, murderer, rapist. Addict, violent, depraved, despicable, worthless. I have experienced firsthand the selfless kindness and sacrificial generosity of these so-called dregs of society. By and large I’ve found them to be just people who made some terrible decisions along the way. Whatever else they had done in their lives it is because of these outcasts and criminals that I did indeed manage to have a very merry Christmas.