They are looking for more than their freedom this holiday season.
I was incarcerated from 1993 to 2015 for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense. That’s 21 Kris Kringle days behind bars. Since my release, I’ve really enjoyed Christmas—buying gifts for my loved ones and eating my fill. Around the holidays, a whole new world has opened to me these last three years. But during my time in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, I was lucky to get a bag of candy or whatever money or books my family could send. Of course, the prison officials I knew would try to offer some holiday cheer. Sadly, it just seemed to reinforce the bleak existence I was forced to live in. With no family, no fancy dinner and desserts, and definitely no eggnog, Christmas inside just reminded me of everything I was missing on the outside.
Being in prison, out-of-sight and out-of-mind, convicts usually don’t get what they want. Living in a fishbowl—with limited opportunities, restricted access, and a scarcity of resources—life can be unbearable. But even the guys I know doing life are still alive. They haven’t totally given up on living and they definitely haven’t given up on Christmas. I talked to a few of my homeboys to find out what they want for Christmas this year. From the typical "freedom" and "be with my family" requests to criminal justice reform and a cure for male pattern baldness, here’s what they had to say.
Serving five years for forging drug prescriptions at FCI Beckley in West Virginia
If I could have anything in the world for Christmas, it would be my freedom. An opportunity to spend that very special day with my loved ones. Being incarcerated and away for so many years, I started to realize how important these special days are. Especially when I took it all for granted in the past, out there running the streets and all of that shit. As I got older, my time started to become a lot harder. That was because I was no longer oblivious to the irreversible damage I have to done to my life, as well as to those who love me. They are, in turn, affected by my absence, especially during this special time of year. When I grew older and became more understanding and actually able to comprehend these things, I started to feel it inside my heart a lot more. Whereas before, I was just blind to the truth of the matter.
From the inside, I look at Christmas from a different point of view. I don't want presents or money, none of that. I just wish I could spend the day with my family, mostly my parents, who are getting much older. I am watching them age through the pictures they send me. I would be perfectly content and truly happy just to be able to sit down and have a decent conversation with my mom or dad, without having to call collect on a 15 minute call limit and hear the 60 second warning as the phone is about to hang up. People should understand and realize what Christmas is really about and cherish it. It isn't about spending money, it isn't about buying the newest iPhone or gift cards. It’s about making a special memory that will be there much longer than a phone. Something I can’t do from here.
Serving Life for Three Strikes Law at FCI Otisville in New York
I would like to see the political climate of this country become more considerate, so they could attend to some pressing issues around the future stability and preservation of our planet. The climate of our country is continuously moving in a never-ceasing circle of doom. We are not gaining any victories, because there is more concern about [big money in politics] than there is for human life. You have politicians exploiting their position through cronyism, and they've become worse than any street gang that I’ve ever known of. Whatever happened to life, liberty, and love for country?
The planet is falling apart and giving us major warnings, and people are forgetting the fact that it doesn't matter what party you vote for. When the world no longer continues to function, life on Earth will be an impossibility for humanity. There are so many things that can be done if those who are supposed to be the deciding counselors would just step up and commit a selfless act. No one will be remembered for their money, cars, property, and vanity. The people whose names [go down in history] are those who understood other people and became a voice of reason and redeeming spirit. Is world peace too much to ask?
Serving Life for Murder/Robbery at USP Big Sandy in Kentucky
All the girls I dated used to love running their fingers through my curls. My hair was so thick and curly, when it grew out, it looked like I had a mushroom sprouting from my head. This will be my 40th Christmas—my 15th behind bars—and as I look back, I realize I’ve spent almost half of my life in prison. No women to run their fingers through my curls, and now, no hair. In 2002, at 26, my hair was full and thick. But in prison, it's not always easy to maintain thick hair like mine, so I trimmed it to a fade. As I watched all my thick curls fall to the floor under the barber's clippers, it never occurred to me that this moment would be the last I saw of my curls.
My thinning wasn't the typical receding of the hairline. My hair thinned in a unique way. The patch just beyond my forehead began to resemble an island. The thinning area making a recognizable circle where the island was just noticeably separated from the rest of the bush. Within my first four years of prison, it was clear that my beautiful fluffy hair abandoned me. I accepted the inevitable. I shaved my head into a baldy. Today, my hair maintenance consists of weekly shavings to hide the several bald spots that have revealed themselves. It’s a tedious routine. That’s why, aside from the obvious desire for freedom, I want my hair for Christmas. It’s a damn pain in the ass to have to shave it every week.
Serving 15 years for Bribery at FCI Danbury in Connecticut
It would be very easy for me to give a standard answer here and make it all about me and my family, but that’s not what being on the other side of the wall has taught me. It seems that every day of my incarceration, I hear of another story which depicts a man figuratively being knocked down from behind and driven to his knees. Left on the brink of demise, all in the name of justice. I listen to the tales of families being ripped apart, marriages being destroyed, and children growing up with absentee fathers so that a system can continue to be fed. A system which is in complete contradiction to its original purpose of being. Rehabilitation was never found in any stocking hanging by a fireplace on Christmas morning.
It simply does not exist. It’s a myth, like Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and all the other holiday stories from my childhood. What we have here in America is a justice system where investigating agents and prosecutors are rewarded with bonuses—called incentive awards—for successfully completing their jobs: a legalized form of bribery. So what then do I want for Christmas? Other than the obvious—freedom—I want to wake up on Christmas morning and turn on the television and see that prison reform has been passed. I want to hear my fellow inmates as they cheer and congratulate each other, while they gleefully discuss what these new changes mean to them. That’s not asking too much, now is it?
Follow Seth Ferranti on Twitter.