I recognize the fact that many of you have better things to do on Christmas Day, so I will speak out of turn. Experience has made me morose and more but I hope you can find some piece of truth or the heart of the Day in my musings.
Christmas in many jails is like any other day. The timing is impeccable as is the monotony. We tend to not watch the TV specials so it even echoes yesterday. There is nothing to signal what rattles your very soul. There are no funny Christmas presents and if orange is festive you would throw up on Easter.
The most painful part of incarceration for me was to surrender my fatherhood like it was as worthless as my watch and clothes. We are numbers and last names; nothing more.
On more than one occasion the flavour of the season was delivered by the Salvation Army. Bars prevented the hug I longed for but candies and such were a welcome amusement; humble gifts. I was more satiated by their presence. Who wants to go caroling in a jail? I listen to hours of music each day, it is my morning coffee but seared in my mind are the notes coming from the accordion on the other side of the bars. Strangers can help to mend a torn heart. I was a father without the whiff of my children and visions of them tearing into wrapping paper laid waste to my strength. I don’t know about most of you but I have many Christmas memories. Imagine letting them all loose when you’re in shackles that very day. There is only anguish at each passing vision. I was disinfected of any meaning despite what swirled in my mind. It was like being a Goldfish. There was all that stuff beyond but the best you could hope for was a sore nose.
The first Christmas I spent in jail was in the Stratford Gaol. It was built in the 1800’s with nothing much more than stone. The season was colder than I was accustomed to. We hooded ourselves with blankets as the stone shone cold on our bodies. Our frigid defence was rendered useless as we were ordered to leave blankets in our cells as they were a security issue. Fire with Fire.
I soon decided Christmas was going to be delivered even if compassion was held up with customs. I had a weakness for sweets while incarcerated. When I was in hospital I would waken in the night and eat a black licorice. I would waken in the morning with a piece or two on my pillow and lost half a tooth soon after but it was comfort. My family has a taste for black licorice and I must have found a connection when I was without them. Sweets were also a connection to the outside while in jail. A “snickers” tastes better than a “snickers” on the outside…trust me.
I always had a couple of chocolate bars either near me or in me. I would ration them. To eat a whole chocolate bar was like throwing away several moments of ecstasy. I ordered enough chocolate bars using the system used to procure street food and product on canteen. On Christmas Eve my cellmate turned into an Elf and ran diversion as we were being locked up. As he pretended to use the toilet I filled my pockets with chocolate bars and scurried from cell to cell and gave each man a chocolate bar. I shook hands with my own pain and glanced into the same infinitely sad eyes but there was a sparkle. It was Santa in an orange jumpsuit wearing ten cent shoes.
P.S. Thanks Mom for the canteen money.