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Holidays are difficult in prison. Many of them shut down programming and even worse, mail delivery. 

Most of us try to ignore the holidays. If I’m lucky, my old cellmate who has been out for about eight years will pull a picture of my grandkids off of facebook and send it in. 

But the fall brings the changing colors of the leaves, deep oranges, reds, and browns. After the first rain a musty, earthy smell hangs in the air, the smell of Halloween. 

Growing up, I remember our neighborhood displayed its full holiday spirit. The couple down the road would make special homemade treats for every child, while another had a haunted house, which we visited in our homemade, unique costumes. 

My father and one of the neighbors would drive slowly behind us, following us from house to house as we filled our pillowcases. My sister usually quit as soon as her bag was full, while I would empty the bag and start from scratch as my father cheered me on, if purely to increase his cut of the spoils. 

We would visit our grandparents’ church for their Halloween event, sticking our hands into mystery boxes, squeezing handfuls of guts and eyeballs, which I later learned were spaghetti and olives. 

We were given caramel apples on sticks, and I could barely wait to sink my teeth into the thickly sweet, sticky treat. To my surprise, my grandmother had substituted onions in place of apples. I don’t remember what lesson that was supposed to teach us, but I did learn that with enough caramel, even an onion tastes good. 

As I grew into my teens, Halloween lost much of its allure. Although I loved the old scary movies and going to see new ones in theatres, October 31 quickly became just another day in the life of a teenager. 

Now that I’m an adult with children and grandchildren of my own, the fun and excitement of the holidays springs anew even though I can’t be a part of it. 

I imagine the children to be adorable in their wide range of costumes, some chewing on their fingers, uncertain of taking the candy being offered, while others are eager and excited, digging their little hands into bowls of their favorite sweet treats. 

Sometimes at night, when it’s relatively quiet, I will close my eyes and let my mind take me back to my Halloween memories. I can picture the colors, sounds, and smells. I can taste Sugar Daddies and caramel onions.  I can feel the wet, squishy noodles and olives in my hands. For that moment I am no longer in prison, I’m back in a simple, happy time. 

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Jeffrey McKee is a writer incarcerated in Washington.