Celebrating Thanksgiving in prison can bring out different methods and memories.
Photo by Ben Franske on Wikicommons

The fall and winter holidays are known for music, TV specials, food, family gatherings and festive decorations. But, for many people, hidden behind all those trappings are increased stress and depression.

While there’s plenty of cheer to go around this time of year, it’s easy to see why people struggle during Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are meals to cook, shopping to be done, decorations to be hung. Not to mention, you might spend a little too much.

In prison, we feel stress and sadness from the holidays too, but it looks a little different and is compounded by the environment. Prisoners grapple with separation from their loved ones, and most of that signature holiday cheer is restricted behind bars. At best, correctional facilities will offer one special meal on both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

All that’s left are thoughts of your family and memories of holiday seasons past. 

Reminiscing can be a positive thing and lead to plenty of sharing and caring at my prison, MacDougall Correctional Institution in South Carolina. 

Patrick Jones fantasizes about his mother’s cooking every holiday season. His mom’s fried chicken, mashed potatoes, rice and gravy, and fried squash are so good he can’t even describe it, he said. 

Unable to eat his mother’s meal this year, Jones will celebrate the holiday season by cooking with his friends and “just being happy God let me have another holiday.”

Like Jones, Kyle Medeiros plans to spend the holidays cooking and sharing food with friends in his dorm.

“I make a coffee dry rub and honey-glazed canned ham that I marinate in Dr. Pepper for myself and about six or seven others,” Medeiros said.  

Choosing a favorite holiday song for Medeiros is “nearly impossible because of my love for this time of year,” he said. Selecting a favorite holiday film, however, comes easy. 

“‘Die Hard,’” he said with a laugh.

Demacian Middleton said his Christmas wish is simple. With so much negativity around, he said, “constant love is all I really need.” 

Middleton’s favorite holiday prison recipe is mac-and-cheese with beef sausage, which he makes any time of the year, not just for the holidays. He admits his mom’s baked mac-and-cheese is much better — “pure food gold.” 

Her secret? 

“The way all the ingredients and cheese lock it together,” he said. “The top is crispy and good.”

Holiday recipes from home are a cherished memory for Medeiros, too.

“My mom makes the best chicken and rice I have ever had in my life,” he said. 

Medeiros also mentioned his mother’s “Better Than Sex Cake.”

“It is all homemade, and it has pineapple and coconut,” he said.

But food is only part of the holidays. To Jason Down, the season is also about sacrifice and celebrating his religion and God. Each holiday is particularly poignant for Down because his niece is seriously ill, and may have only a few years left to live, he said.

“If I could give a gift to anyone, I would give her a few years to live, love and enjoy life,” Down said. “Of course, this is ironic because here in prison nobody wants more time. But if I could, I would gladly take [any more] time if she could receive it.”

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.

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Gary K. Farlow

Gary K. Farlow is a writer incarcerated in South Carolina.