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This is my first time incarcerated. I received four consecutive life sentences on my first offense for attempted murder. 

On the streets, I am a family man. On Thanksgiving, I used to go to my aunt’s house and only eat meat. My cousin made the best biscuits. My sister made the best sides. My Dad baked cakes, and my mom baked pies. I also had friends of the family or relatives who wanted to see me. Everybody wanted me at their Thanksgiving. 

In prison, I stress during the holidays. These are those “I don’t give a fuck” times. Tensions are high, and almost everyone is depressed but pretends to act normal. 

Thanksgiving is the most stressful. Around Thanksgiving, we had a riot in the recreational yard. My crew and I pitted ourselves against the opposition. We were all stressed and depressed. We had a reason, and it cracked off. 

But during Christmas, for some reason, everybody gets friendly. We all celebrate and eat together. This is when everyone comes together and gets to know each other.

New Year’s Day is the celebration of another calendar year down.

I have lived here for so long that I can tell what to look for during the holidays when it comes to mental health. 

First, we all fortify ourselves with our gangs and our communities. Next, we start picking on each other over small shit. I love my crew, so we start looking for trouble with outside groups. Ten minutes of a riot erases a year of disappointments, shortcomings and loneliness. That feeling of knowing your crew would brave death with you gives you the feeling you are no longer alone. In fact, they become your family.

Holiday food consists of burritos. Every now and then, we have nachos, tacos, gumbo and a rice bowl. One of us makes cakes and cookies. To drink, we have vodka, sodas and Kool-Aid. I smoke marijuana if I can.

If I can’t drink or smoke, or if I can’t make it to the canteen or receive a package, it feels like I’ve been forgotten. It feels like nobody loves me. My whole crew feels this way. Football is one way to relieve this anger.

Mental health is worse for me because I’m in here for a crime I did not commit. During this time, I start thinking, “If I catch a charge, I’ll be able to get another lawyer.”

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.

Carnell Wingfield Jr. is a writer and poet incarcerated in California. He is a sociology major at Feather River College and also graduated with distinction from Blackstone Career Institute's paralegal course.