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I have never felt as close to home as I did during Christmas in 2018.

Throughout my incarceration, I was fortunate to be part of a wonderful program called Mothers Inside Loving Kids (MILK). This program provided a way for us mothers to remain connected with our children through special visitation privileges.

A MILK visit consisted of playing games, making arts and crafts, eating snacks and lunch, and spending quality family time together. In other words, these visits were not at all like a typical prison visit. MILK visits gave us the freedom to enjoy the time spent here with family. Those visits carried such a familial feeling that it did not seem as if we were behind locked doors and fences. It was comfortable.

Our last visit was December of 2018, and we celebrated our Christmas holiday together. Unbeknownst to our children and families, we had gotten them presents that they would be allowed to open during the visit.

In the week prior to the visit, the assistant warden called the MILK moms together and we had to show him our gifts for his approval before we wrapped them in beautiful holiday wrapping paper.

We had been collecting and making things all throughout the year in preparation for this visit. Some of us had t-shirts we painted. We painted cups and socks, we had cards and candy and much more. We all got really creative when it came to our children.

We enjoyed the entire visit, but the highlight was Circle Time, which consisted of the entire group sitting around in a circle spending time together. During Circle Time that year, our children opened their gifts and it was such a joy to see their little faces light up. What comfort that provided. To know that my children were happy was all that mattered to me.

Though each day is a struggle, holidays can be especially difficult for those of us on the inside. When you are accustomed to enjoying those special days with your loved ones and suddenly that has been taken away from you, that loss can be extremely hard to handle. We spend them grasping for some sense of home.

The MILK visit that day was as close to home as I’ve felt during my 16 years of incarceration. It was a blessing!

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.

Chanell Burnette is a writer incarcerated in Virginia.