Sentimental, Christmas 2008

Posted: December 26, 2008 in prison, general, prisoner rehabilitation, prisoner writing, story

Christmas. I spent the night with my parents last night. My sister made a delicious bean soup for dinner. This morning Mom made our traditional Christmas morning breakfast — egg casserole, orange rolls and mimosas. We opened gifts. We watched a movie. We told some stories. Laughed. Rested.  I drove my sister home and now I’m sitting quietly, the house to myself, the holiday coming to an end, and I’m thinking about the guys up at Monroe.

Sometimes I worry that I appear too sentimental. Too — think of these men, alone in their cells for the holiday, sad, depressed, lonely. I wonder how many people feel that  I cut the guys too much slack, am too naive, forget that they are also criminals. How many people think I would better serve the world by helping a different group — the homeless, victims of violence or disenfrancised teens. Didn’t these guys get their chance? Shouldn’t they be punshished?

Yes. They should be. And I guess part of my goal here is to remind people that they are being punished. They are alone, in their cells, tonight. Without family. Perhaps without gifts, or even a letter. They are alone, free only to think about how they got there, how they might have made better, different decisions that would have made it possible to still be home with their families, perhaps celebrating Christmas. And the guys in our group, the guys I have gotten to know, I know are missing their families tonight. I know they feel the loss. I know they feel the isolation. I know they understand all they have lost.

I can believe they need to be punished. I can believe they need to be right where they are. I can say they deserve the time they are serving.

I can also believe in their humanity.

People will have to believe that I can hold both truthes at once.

And I believe in the valuable perspective that my witness and knowledge of their humanity gives me. As I manage my anxiety about gift shopping, holiday travel and extended periods of time with my family this time of year it’s good to remember mine is still a blessed life. We all need something that reminds us of the ways in which we got lucky.

It’s an easy time of year to get sentimental, but it’s not my goal to be sentimental about these guys. If people were to read this and think that I don’t get that some men commit evil acts for which they should be punished they wouldn’t get why I even bother to do this work, why I even bother to write these words. I bother because I don’t believe you can lock people away and forget about them and somehow expect that will fix all that is scary and troubling about the world. It won’t. It’s all more complicated than that. Perhaps those who believe that are system of incarcertaion in this country serves it’s stated purpose — to keep us safe and to rehabalitate those who would cause us harm — are the sentimental ones.

I’m thinking about the guys tonight. I’m wishing them peace. Peace in their hearts. Peace in their minds. Peace in their dreams. I wish this for the guys in their cells tonight. And at the risk of sounding sentimental — being capable of extending the holiday spirit to those who might not actually deserve it — is what this season is about.

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