Most of us have a favorite Christmas memory. We have celebrated in many different ways and in different places. There are few places more dismal to be at Christmas than in prison. The story you about to read is written by an inmate in prison who determined that they would not allow their surroundings to get in the way of celebrating the Savior and how that celebration changed the entire spirit from darkness to light.
As an inmate in prison, I dreaded the thought of Christmas. Even the commercials on television sent into an emotional tailspin. I just wanted to go to sleep on Thanksgiving and wake up on January 2nd. The week before Thanksgiving the lieutenant over our building posted the announcement for the annual Christmas decoration contest. In the zone I am in a group of women sat down over a cup of coffee to toss around ideas for decorating our gymnasium sized cinder block room filled with 116 metal bunk beds, a bathroom and eight metal tables in a dayroom. We had no decorations, no tree, no lights, no money or way to get materials. We did find some bulletin board paper. Our case manager said she would try to get us a few things. It sounded like a real “holly jolly” experience. What we did have was a creative vision, a determined spirit, and each other.
We decorated the two large back walls as the interior and exterior of a log cabin. We used rolls of brown paper towel colored with black and brown markers and crayons to make logs. The exterior of our cabin was complete with brass lanterns on either side. A wreath adorned the front door, and a window displayed a Norman Rockwell scene of the cozy family room.The mailbox draped with a holly swag was filled with letters writing to be delivered to Santa. We even had Santa going down the chimney. The view of the other back wall was the interior of the log cabin complete with a flickering fire, and the stockings hung on the mantle with care. A hand painted sheet rug lay in front of the fireplace. A functioning rocking chair made from two cardboard boxes sat ready for grandpa to pick up his glasses and book on the side table to read the Christmas story. The window behind the rocking chair showed a Thomas Kincaid see of the snowy serene outside where you could envision relatives driving across the bridge over the icy makeready for skaters or maybe a sled.
The focal point was the seven foot tree made from toilet paper rolls stuffed like a homecoming float with green paper squares. At the front of the zone each woman contributed pictures for the family “Tree of Angels” complete with Jesus atop of the tree with outstretched hands of love. We had elves climbing up a ladder to hang glitter light bulbs over the windows. We decorated the guards tower like a gingerbread house complete with lollipops, a variety of candies and a red and white valiance.
Additional decorations included a ten foot tall Mr. And Mrs. Frosty, a 12 foot tall stained glass tree in the foyer and our own version of the “Twas the Night before Christmas “ specific to our facility displayed dow the hallway. Elves representing each of the officers and personnel also decorated the halls.
Every passing day brought another scene and more excitement. Our case manager was so excited she even brought white lights for our toilet paper tree, front door and colored lights for the gingerbread house. As creative and colorful as the different scenes were, the highlight was the nativity that drew you in as you walked into the zone. We had silhouettes of the Holy Family with baby Jesus in a manger made of a box filled with shredded paper towel hay. There were two four foot angels shimmering over the stable heralding the joyous news on either side of an eight foot multi prism star. The wise men baring glitter and gemstone embellished gifts were coming from the east. Women would bring scraps of material or personal treasures to decorate the wise men and gift boxes. Every bed was decorated with jingle bells on one side and candy canes on the other half of the zone.
On the day of the judging we greeted the judges and other guests with homemade cookies. Of course we had left Santa cookies and cocoa by the fireplace. As they were leaving we directed them through the bathroom. Perplexed looking, they obliged us and found every sink adorned with monogrammed hand towels made from sheets and homemade holiday soaps. As they left we caroled “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”.
The decorations went up reminding us that Love came down! As the lights were plugged in, hope began to flow out and transform the cold dingy concrete room into a warm inviting reminder of home, the holiday, and happier days. As the pictures of each individuals family were taped to the wall to form the Tree of Angels, women gathered to view I and point out their loved ones that ere part of the ornamentation. Hearts were united in celebration. The lieutenant said normally the holidays bring heightened emotions and altercations with the stress of not being with family. However, she said, there had been fewer fights that ever before. She attributed it to the spirit that filled the building. People came from all over the compound and downtown to see the transformation. It was like Whoville and Bethlehem…despite the adverse circumstances. It was a five loaves and two fishes transformation.
We had nothing but God helped us turn it into immeasurably more. We decided to have a Christmas party on Christmas Eve complete with the Christmas story, carols, and dirty Santa. On Christmas Eve the ladies gathered in their homemade Christmas PJs, dresses and other creative outfits. Everyone brought gifts they had made or ordered from the canteen wrapped in ways that would astound you. We all sat in front of the tree and fireplace as a family as one to celebrate Jesus’ birth. As the overhead lights were turned off that light leaving only the Christmas lights on, the room was aglow. The room was filled with a spirit of peace and hope.
Please remember to pray for those serving time. Pray for their families this Christmas. Most of all pray that hearts and lives would be changed and that the Kingdom would built.