Holidays in Jail

For the two million Americans in prison, the holidays are a terrible time.

For the 2 million Americans in prison, the holidays are a terrible time. It’s terrible for their family members, too – they’re trying to enjoy what should be the most wonderful time of the year, and then they receive that automated collect call recording from prison. I have nightmares about those calls. Even though getting phone calls and visits are a blessing, I feel like such a piece of guilty shameful shit every time I get one, especially around Christmas time. What’s worse than not being able to give your family and your girl presents on Xmas ‘cause you’re a fucking idiot who got caught doing dumb shit?

Lamentably, I’ve spent the majority of the past decade’s Christmases locked up. I try to imagine I’m a tough son of a bitch and this doesn’t affect me, but I tell you, it’s mega-hard not to succumb to the depression. It’s a test of emotional strength to even watch TV, read the newspaper, or listen to the radio with the constant bombardment of all the holiday glory going on in the real world while we’re locked down. Some convicts try to celebrate Xmas in the stinky clink-clink and make the most of it, whereas I try my hardest to pretend it doesn’t exist, although that’s always pretty much impossible when I have to call home and eat that shit sandwich.

I used to know this child-touching rapist who managed to get his hands on hard-to-get food regularly. We called him Sprinkles because we thought he was gay, and at Christmas Sprinkles would order a canned ham or turkey from a catalogue and invite his upper-echelon cracker friends to dine with him. Another prison Christmas tradition is to get high – dudes will make hooch a couple of weeks ahead of time or try to get some weed, Suboxone, or whatever. The holidays are the perfect time to hibernate in a drugged-out haze, since that’s better than hearing your loved ones cry over the phone or having to think back on why you’re locked up in the first place.

I constantly rewrite history in my head to change just a couple of simple situations so that I never would’ve been locked up all those years. It seems so arbitrary that I lost all that time when there are people all over the world using more drugs than I ever sold. It’s shocking the number of killers and rapists I’ve met that received less time than I did. It’s too easy to feel bad for ourselves around the holidays and fall into a pattern of escapist thinking. The best way to cope for some of us is just to keep our mind off the harsh reality and cling to any distraction we can find. I used to have to convince myself that I didn’t give a fuck about anything or anyone so that I wouldn’t feel so shitty and guilty. But then I felt guilty about that, since I should be suffering. After all, I’m the one who made the mess, so I gotta sit in it. Plus, if my people on the outside are depressed ‘cause of my stupidity, then shouldn’t I feel stressed too?

I used to live by the motto of “No regrets.” Not any more. I’m sorry for everything all the time. Even Christmas is scarred by bad memories. I used to be too stupid to realise I ruined my life, but enough people have told me so by this point so I believe ‘em. I’ve tried to remain optimistic, but my track record makes it difficult – just when things seem to be getting good, I fuck up. That’s just the way it goes. Sheeyit, I haven’t even hit midlife-crisis age yet and I’m already in crisis. I always tell myself I’ve had enough bad luck for a lifetime already and eventually things will swing my way, but the truth is I’ve had a lot of amazing luck, especially considering how retardedly reckless I’ve acted.

Nothing brings home the sad truth more than spending Christmas in jail. Everyone is grateful for the love in their lives during the holidays, and no one more so than someone who spent part of that life in prison. A very high percentage of inmates go back in jail after being set free, and the ones that don’t hold onto that paralysing depression and crippling fear they felt while they were locked up. Happy New Year.

Bert Burykill is the pseudonym of our prison correspondent, who has spent time in a number of prisons in New York State. He tweets here

Previously - Slaying the Snot-Squeezing Dragon