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The Wednesday before Thanksgiving puts everyone into holiday mode. Correctional staff rearranged their work schedules to maximize the official beginning of the holiday season, especially because most Americans were able to visit family and friends in relative safety for the first time since 2020, thanks to vaccines.

This was true also for my family, and my absence from them felt more prominent to me than in years past. In places like prisons where people find themselves in isolated situations, the holiday season is one that can be filled with depression.

However, Thanksgiving is a day of friends, family and togetherness, and it’s important to find those qualities wherever you find yourself.

For most of us incarcerated folk at Green Haven Correctional Facility in New York, Thanksgiving means limited movement until the following Monday. We could go to the mess hall, yard and the cell. On Wednesday, some programs operated for half a day, others not at all. The laundry was operational only one day that week, and it was only for colored clothes, so we either had to wash our own whites or we had to contend with a large bag of dirty underwear in our cell … yuck!

My housing unit is permitted to shop at the commissary every two weeks on Thursdays usually, but since this Thursday was a holiday, we were supposed to be able to shop the previous day. That didn’t happen because the computers went down on Tuesday. Besides restocking our lockers, we didn’t get to shop for the extras we planned to use for our own holiday meals.

The Thanksgiving meal provided by the facility was served at lunch time. We were served a turkey roll, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and a small cup of vanilla fudge ice cream. I gave everything away except the cranberry sauce and the ice cream. I can’t comment on how the meal tasted, but based on years past, I decided to forgo the disappointment.

As it turned out, Thanksgiving was a pretty good day for me and most of the guys on my unit. A lot of early visitors brought their loved ones all manner of holiday goodies. The package room issued mail packages of food that made it just in the nick of time.

My brother London brought all the fixins’ for a full course Thanksgiving dinner. Robert was the chef extraordinaire. London and Rob began the prep work in the early afternoon. At 9 p.m. I still didn’t have my bowl — we don’t do plates here — so I was both hungry and a little agitated, but it was worth the wait.

London picked up a real precooked turkey, and Rob used simple garnishes and just the right amount of seasoning, so the turkey was tender and succulent. We also had yams, collard greens seasoned with turkey pepperoni, macaroni and cheese and fresh broccoli. Rob’s bed in his cell became the kitchen table, which groaned with open bowls filled to the brim with food and love. We are a difficult bunch to please, but there were no complaints.

I shared my turkey with a Latino brother next door to me. That night during our shared meal we experienced, for a little while, a sense of brotherhood, goodwill and community.

The smell of delicious food wafting through the air contributed to a joyous atmosphere. I believe the sharing of food went a long way to foster and demonstrate a sense of community that we can all build on. I went to sleep with a full stomach in good spirits and heartfelt gratitude for London and Rob’s gift of food, time and goodwill.

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.

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Reginald Stephen

Reginald Stephen is a writer incarcerated in New York.