Many people in prison are sad or upset on Thanksgiving, but it is still my favorite holiday of the year. I have learned to enjoy it no matter who I am with or where I am at.
During my incarceration, I’ve tried to find my mental sweet spot — an outlook that allows me to be grateful for who I am, what I have and for the holiday season. It has worked for me and allowed me to enjoy many Thanksgivings behind bars.
My most memorable Thanksgiving experience in prison came in 2018.
I had just been released from solitary confinement the day before. I looked horrific. I had a long, scruffy beard, matted dreads and clothes that smelled like death. The property room was closed, and I didn’t have anything else to wear.
That was a problem, since my aunt was coming to visit me the next day. When I arrived at my new cell, I was greeted by my cellmate, a cool trans woman named Donna. Donna frowned when she saw me, but with a mother’s love. She immediately went to work on me, re-twisting and braiding my dreads, shaving my face, finding me clean clothes, giving me another reason to be thankful.
On Thanksgiving, I was excited. I could not wait for my visit with my aunt. She had cooked for the occasion and had somehow charmed the guards into allowing her to bring in food, even though I was not eligible for a food visit.
We ate good: macaroni and cheese, sweet Hawaiian rolls, fried chicken tenders, collard greens with salt pork and my favorite holiday food, chitterlings (don’t judge y’all, it’s a tradition I love).
We ate and laughed while we played Monopoly. Catching up on old times and old people, we enjoyed ourselves to the fullest. After my visit was over, I returned to my cell.
There, I was greeted by a large group of people eating a holiday meal. They had cheeseburgers, banquet fried chicken, macaroni, cheesecakes, steamed rice, noodles and a whole lot more.
I was amazed at the scene. The same people who were usually at odds with each other had made a conscious decision to enjoy Thanksgiving together. Some of those in attendance were death row inmates, and it could have possibly been their last holiday ever. They taught me a valuable lesson: to be grateful for the now because it’s all you got.
After all, how can you enjoy what comes later in life if you can’t find a reason to enjoy the present?
That is one of the reasons I enjoy Thanksgiving so much. It’s the one day where I am able to reach deep down into my supply of emergency powers and find a way to enjoy myself.
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.