Christmas in prison by Derrick Martin-Armstead

Christmas in prison by Derrick Martin-Armstead

Monroe Corrections Complex – Twin Rivers Unit
December 25, 2020 6:30a.m

Christmas in prison is depressing. One can only imagine that it’s a depressing place in general. Due to covid we have not seen our families or friends in over seven months. We have lost many privileges due to this pandemic. Even though the only way we can be infected with this virus is by correctional officers and staff bringing it in, and coming into contact with us inmates. The department has used this virus as a weapon instead of a safety measure.

On the morning of Christmas, myself and other inmates decided to pass out cookies and hot chocolate to our fellow, less fortunate inmates, who have become more like family then anything as we quarantine together, eat together and go thru this pandemic together.

At 6:30 am The Sgt came running into the unit ordering that we stop immediately and yelled unpleasant things about the Christmas cheer. This ordeal lasted at best 5 minutes less than it takes us to pick up our meals in the kitchen, or line up for pill line or even working in correction industries both commissary and laundry. Both large money-makers for the Department of Corrections.

There were many of these holiday giveaways at Twin Rivers, but now I will be singled out and infracted for this. After being yelled at by the Sgt and reprimanded for these actions, “I don’t care about your lawsuits, you are completely out of line for this!”

At 29 years old, being nearly done with my 16 year sentence, I can say I have learned how to be human, how to love, and most importantly the joy one feels to help his fellow human being out. If in fact I receive a negative infraction… I know that I came a long way from the young 16 year-old thug that didn’t care about human life, much less if someone felt some Christmas cheer. I am guilty of bringing some love in this terrible pandemic, in the form of duplex creme cookies and lukewarm hot chocolate to the 90 inmates in A unit.

All I Want For Christmas

All I Want For Christmas

Christmas is a festive time of year, when family members get together to enjoy robust meals, open presents, and share good ole’ rare quality time. During the holidays, people tend to let bygones be bygones, differences become trivial, and allow their love for one another to rule the day. It’s the season of giving, cheerful volunteering, and routinely putting others before ourselves. Who wouldn’t love this time of year? I have an answer.

Prisons across this vast country incarcerate over 2.3 million people – PEOPLE! This means tens of millions of people are directly affected by this epidemic. Countless children wake up on Christmas morning to open gifts with one parent there to watch their shining faces as they rip open packages of their favorite toys, while the other (in most cases Daddy) sits in a cell, heartbroken that he has missed out on yet another Christmas Day with his family. If he’s lucky, he’ll get to make a limited phone call later in the day to wish his family a merry Christmas, but many are not even afforded this luxury.

I have been incarcerated for fifteen years, and am beyond blessed to have had the love of my family for the entire time. Others around me, however, have not been as blessed. It breaks my heart to see so many men for so many years go without even a single phone call on Christmas. They have no one to call; they have no family to answer on the other end, no family to send them a Christmas card, no family to come visit them. They carry on as though they are unfazed by their lack of family support, but when you’ve been around these people every day, year after year, their pain is evident in their faces, and heard in their voices.

Also evident however, is the camaraderie I have witnessed over the last decade and a half during this time of year. Guys come together unlike any other time of the year, piecing together assortments of canteen ingredients to prepare “spreads,” burritos, nachos, and any other fine prison cuisine they can concoct. The banter is louder, the playing is more, well, playful, and the overall mood is palpably more jovial. It’s certainly no replacement for time spent with our families, but the surrogate families that are created in prison and on full display during the holiday season is encouraging and dare I say even heartwarming. It is, in fact, all that many have to look forward to, accepting they can expect nothing from the outside world during this season.

Some are fortunate enough to receive visits – even on Christmas itself – and cards, to remind them they are still loved, important, and dearly missed. But then I am forced to think about the impact on the family that comes to see their confined loved one. How do they feel when they leave him or her behind and return home to enjoy their Christmas dinner, and open gifts? And how do they answer the four-year old who repeatedly asks why Daddy or Mommy is not home for this special day?

For those of you who have a family member incarcerated and are in a position to support him or her through their hardship, please know they appreciate your devotion more than they can ever express. I thank you for giving them the invaluable gift of knowing they still matter, despite the rest of the world having essentially forgotten they even exist. For those of you who know someone incarcerated but haven’t, for whatever reason, found time or energy to write, visit, or send a card in years, I strongly encourage you to find a way to do so this holiday season. The gesture would be met with indescribable gratitude. As mentioned earlier, I, personally, am grateful for the unwavering support my family has shown and continues to show through my plight; others in this horrid situation are not as fortunate. Therefore, it is my solemn plea to all who read this and know someone who is incarcerated to send a card or letter, or to visit during this precious holiday season. This is all I want for Christmas.