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Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas offer people in prison the opportunity to celebrate traditions.
Photo illustration by Teresa Tauchi (Source: Depositphotos, Unsplash)

Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Each of the three holidays offer most people time to spend with family and friends, celebrating traditions.

But things are different for those of us who are incarcerated. I’ve been in prison for the last nine years, but that doesn’t mean I let Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas fly by without celebrating the season. 

In past years, I have created new holiday traditions for prison while also maintaining some of my family’s traditions.

My New Halloween

Halloween has been the most difficult holiday in terms of keeping old traditions. On the outside, I would join my family as we passed out candy, visited haunted houses and rode on haunted hayrides. We also decorated our home with carved pumpkins, spooky witches and even flying bats. 

In prison, I still pass out candy, but now it is to my friends and in the form of Tootsie Rolls, because they are only 2 cents per candy.  

I still decorate my cell by displaying pop-up cards that my family has sent me. I have pop-up cards of a haunted house, and of witches and ghosts and bats flying. 

Instead of frequenting haunted houses and hayrides, I now watch Halloween movies. Some of my favorites are “Hocus Pocus,” “Casper,” “Halloween” and the entire “Saw” series. My prison also has a housing unit decorating contest. Whichever housing unit decorates its small yard the best wins a movie night in the gym.  

While I can’t spend Halloween with my family, I still spend it with friends. It helps to have these adapted traditions, so I don’t feel completely left out. 

I want to add a new tradition next year. In my prison, we are able to order art supplies like glue, scissors and construction paper. So next year I think I will buy construction paper and make pumpkin, bat, ghost and witch decorations for my cell.  

Savoring Thanksgiving

To this day my family still celebrates Thanksgiving the same way. They have a wonderful meal together and watch both the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and The National Dog Show. While I can’t personally be with my family, I am there in spirit. 

One of my new Thanksgiving traditions is buying a can of Bluebird orange juice to have on the morning of Thanksgiving. It costs $1.20 per can so it is a very special drink that I don’t have often. As I slowly sip the ice-cold orange juice, I reflect on what I am thankful for.

Since I have a TV, I am still able to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and The National Dog Show. I watch these events at the same time as my family, which gives me a sense of joy and peace knowing we are doing the same thing. 

My prison provides a Thanksgiving day meal after those shows. They serve us turkey, yams, stuffing, green beans, rolls, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. I feel truly grateful because there are plenty of people in the world who can’t afford such a meal.  

I don’t currently have decorations for Thanksgiving, but I plan on making some in the coming year. I also take joy in sending my family Thanksgiving cards. While they are not as decorative as I would like, they still convey my sentiments. I don’t have the ability to shop for Black Friday deals, but I can go to the prison commissary. I typically end the day by watching some family-oriented movies on Hallmark or Lifetime. 

My Favorite Holiday

There are numerous traditions associated with Christmas, which is my favorite holiday. My family decorates the home and drives around to see Christmas lights. Then they share presents and a wonderful meal. 

Since I am incarcerated, I can’t drive around and see people’s homes. My tradition is the same as for Thanksgiving: I drink Bluebird orange juice.  

For Christmas I also decorate my cell with snowflakes made out of paper. I have a Christmas tree pop-up card, a snow globe pop-up card, and a card showing Santa riding in a pickup truck. I also make green and red garlands to hang in my cell. The prison serves us a Christmas meal of turkey, ham, yams, stuffing, green beans, rolls, cranberry sauce and pie. 

I spend the majority of the day watching some of my favorite Christmas movies, including “The Santa Clause” with Tim Allen, “The Polar Express” and the classic “A Christmas Story.” 

These are adapted, new traditions. I miss the old ones, but the traditions I’ve made in prison still bring me joy and happiness.

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.

Lexie Handling is a transgender writer working on bettering herself, and learning how to crochet (which is not as easy as she first thought). She is incarcerated in Missouri.