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Black Lamb


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Hating the season

December 1st, 2004


I hate it when the family comes to visit at Christmas. Overeating, forced conversation, faked jollity, stupid stories from the past. God, it makes me want to puke. I told them, “Don’t come this year.” I just can’t handle it.

Excuse the negativity, but Christmas in America has become a great disappointment, and it’s intensified within the prison setting. In prison, our expectations have been reduced to a null set, so achingly anti-celebratory as to make Dr. Seuss’s Grinch seem an archetype of cheerfulness. “The Grinch,” as you may recall, “hated Christmas,/The whole Christmas season./Please don’t ask me why,/No one quite knows the reason.”

Yet even a superficial look easily comes up with a number of reasons for “hating the season.” Four basic factors contribute to creating and fueling the infernal atmosphere within which we inmates endure this cheerless holiday:

• Most inmates are heathen and have no acquaintance with, or interest in, any religious aspect of the feast. This is exactly the situation described in a story recounted in The Merriest Christmas Book Ever, by Marty Link, S.J. Two girls read a sign — “Put the Christ back in Christmas” — to which one harumphs, “Look at that! Now the church wants to stick its nose into it.”

• Many have no family ties, either by the predicament of their upbringing, or the horrendous nature of their crimes.

• Few, if any, have ever had healthy family customs, traditions, or rituals.

• The majority lead profoundly desolate lives, the result of shockingly self-destructive behavior.

Small wonder holidays are not “celebrated” in the prison system. Nor is it shocking to us to hear, year after year, that the suicide rate is highest as December 25th “draws on apace.” When the context is purely secular, there is little attraction in observing Christmas. It is as empty a sentiment as toasting Scrooge; it has no heartiness in it.

One of the pathologies of the criminal mind is that we think of ourselves as “free spirits,” meaning we can break any rules we choose, believing ourselves to be creative, or simply outside the mores of society. At the same time, we require everyone else to assiduously maintain the status quo so that our outrageous behavior can be appropriately measured and admired. Fundamentally, this means we don’t take surprises very well, sometimes reacting with disastrous, even lethal, results. It also means we are hypercritical of everyone, it being distinctly understood that everyone is inferior to us. Also, any action taken by another person, even for our benefit, if not orchestrated by us, is unworthy precisely because we haven’t performed it ourselves, nor have we been given pride of place in controlling and directing it.

To wit: the Christmas food package. Families are allowed to send in a food package at Christmas. It must come directly from an authorized vendor, can weigh up to fifteen pounds, and may amount to an expense of $150 or more. This represents a monumental outlay of time, red tape, and money from a family that may have none of the above to spare. Yet those who receive these rare and thoughtful treats are seldom grateful. I overheard a phone conversation (how could anyone avoid it, the man was screaming): “You bitch! You sent me ten pounds of teriyaki jerky You know I wanted sausage. You worthless sack of shit!”
This sort of response is even sadder when you consider that all the poundage represents money she didn’t have, and it will be used by the inmate to pay off debts incurred throughout the preceding year at the gaming tables, or in trade for contraband or sexual favors.

Negativity, emptiness, loneliness, and pathologies notwithstanding, Christmas is upon us once again, set within a winter of discontent. We inmates would do well to lay aside our cumbersome baggage and finally face the music, heeding Edmund Sears’ prescient advice: “Oh hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing.” •

Editor’s Note: As this issue is being prepared for press (it’s still October), I have received word from an old friend of Pen Man’s, a woman whom he calls regularly from prison and who, with her husband, helps him take care of some of his personal business, that prison personnel in the mail room read (before delivering to him) the piece he wrote in the October issue (“Ladies and the Joint”), in which he described the less than admirable activities of some prison personnel, although not naming them. The powers that be were not amused. Pen Man, who has been a model prisoner, was clapped in handcuffs, deprived of all his possessions, and immediately transported to another facility, where he was temporarily put into solitary, without even his glasses. He’s been assured that this action is not retaliatory and won’t affect his length of imprisonment, but he’s also been told that his article was inflammatory. Where he’ll finally end up is not clear yet, but there is talk of moving him from western Washington, where his family and other occasional visitors live, to Spokane, at the far eastern edge of the state. Readers wishing to write to him may do so at Black Lamb’s address: P.O. Box 4531, Portland OR 97208-4531. We will forward all correspondence to Dean as soon as we know where to send it.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Christmas Issue, Suess | Link to this Entry


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