Being in the gloom-and-doom atmosphere of prison can sometimes cause one to despair, but I have personally witnessed the lifting of people’s spirits during the Christmas holiday. Throughout the 30 years that I’ve been an inmate, I’ve seen many in prison who experience a profound sense of peace and joy around the holidays, and some even have the gift of spirit that brings out the best of people in this cold, stark environment.

Many incarcerated realize the importance to stay in touch with their feelings, and so there is widespread participation in the holiday activities at Christmas.

During the Christmas holiday, movies are provided to the inmate population in the Honor Sections, as well as the showings of religious movies in the prison chapel. On Christmas Eve, there is a doughnut giveaway and inmates receive various candy selections passed out by the staff. On Christmas Day, a traditional meal is served up.

Many years ago at the old State Prison in Thomaston, I knew a guy who had found a field mouse in the recreation yard and made him his pet. Sometimes owning and caring for a pet isn’t enough – some feel the need to teach them tricks. He endeavored to teach the mouse to carry small objects to other prisoners’ cells.

Every time he fed the mouse, he’d tap on the floor with something. When it responded to that, he had the guy in the next cell next to him tap and feed the mouse when it came. After moving the tapping farther and farther away, it eventually ran up the tier whenever someone called (tapped).

One Christmas Eve I saw the mouse hustling past my cell with a cigarette wrapped in a red string bow on its back. I laughed until I cried. Needless to say, the story spread like wildfire throughout the prison that night into Christmas Day, and was the subject of conversation all the way through New Year’s Day that year.

I suppose there is something in human beings that compels us to need and seek out the companionship of a pet. I believe that this is a good quality in a prisoner and one the prison administration should be cultivating. The K-9 Corrections Dog Program has been in place for years here at the prison and has helped prisoners become more peaceful, caring and compassionate people as they make their way toward reintegration into society.

Although there is less holiday cheer in prison than in the free society during the Christmas holiday, people do come together in spirit and experience some of the same peace and joy in their hearts.

Around the holidays, prisoners are looking for ways to escape the confinement and the mundane existence they endure on a daily basis. Christmas is about believing and bringing light into the world, a kind, forgiving and charitable time.

Many here want to understand their past, see their future and be confident in mind and body. There are those who cannot be there emotionally for their loved ones during the holiday season, but they remain optimistic that they can reconnect with their families in the near future, and realize that where there is life, there is hope.