It is not easy to navigate through prison on any day of any week.
Prison is hard on everyone, every day. It is the hardest during the holidays. I am talking about every holiday—not just the federally recognized holidays. Birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, baptisms, every event that family gathers to celebrate is a stark reminder that our family is different. We cannot be together to celebrate.
Prison disrupts everything about “normal” life. Everything changes, and nothing is simple anymore. Holidays are especially hard because those are the times everyone else is making plans to get together with family. We can’t. We must find creative ways to celebrate holidays together.
Ron tells me that every day is the same in prison.
They may get a little something different to eat at lunch or dinner- but it is not a feast by any stretch of the imagination. They long to share a feast with us out here, and we would gladly surrender our feast if only we could spend time together.
Although you cannot change the fact that your man will be in prison for the holiday—you can change how you celebrate. You can create a new memory together in the prison visiting room. You are right, it is not ideal. No one wants to celebrate holidays in prison, but it is better than not celebrating them at all.
Find a way to connect for the holiday.
If the prison visiting room is closed during the holiday, pick a day (as far in advance as you can!) that is closest to the holiday and set up a visit. Then, do something extraordinary that day. Experiment with a new food out of the vending machine, wear something festive (but modest so you can get in!), or bring a new special guest with you to the visit.
Our best Christmas was one that we got to spend two days in a row visiting Ron. A church gave us a gift of a night at a hotel. We drove down to visit Ron on December 22nd and spent the day with him. We ate our regular meal of wings and burgers from the vending machine. Then we talked about what we would do the next day to celebrate Christmas together.
For years, as badly as I wanted to wake up on Christmas morning and see a gift from my Dad under the tree, it didn’t happen. As a child, I needed to know that he was part of my life all the time. I sometimes felt he was only there for us during the times we were able to visit him.
We decided that we would each have a turn going to the vending machines alone to choose “presents” for the others. The next day, we were full of anticipation. We had not celebrated Christmas together in 4 years. We would wrap them in napkins and then open them together at the table. It was so much fun! The boys bought candy bars, skittles, hostess cupcakes, microwave fries, Doritos, Pop Tarts, and soda pop. I got apples, sandwiches, and a veggie tray for Ron and the boys. We didn’t have tape, so the wrapping was a little messy and the gifts all peeked out from under their scant napkin coverings. Ron still acted surprised – and we all laughed. What a wonderful memory we created that day!
Share your memories
Another example – When Ron’s brother got married, we rented the tuxes for the boys a day earlier and the boys wore them to visit Ron. He was so surprised to see them all decked out in their tuxedos! We talked about the people who would be at the wedding and who Ron wanted them to be sure to greet the guests for him. We took pictures together and shared memories of our own wedding with the boys.
Memories will last a lifetime
What I am trying to tell you is that I know Holidays and special occasions are hard when your husband is in prison. You need to know that you can make it easier by finding ways to celebrate with them in creative ways. It isn’t just that you CAN do it, you MUST do it. You are building memories for your children to last a lifetime. You are making deposits into their lives that will create a foundation of security from strong family ties. It requires a little extra work, and a lot of self-regulation to overcome the self-pity we are prone to, but it is so worth the energy and investment.
Don’t let your circumstances keep you from connecting to build memories and celebrate the important events in life. Overcome by finding a way to celebrate together in spite of the circumstances. Prison is a season, an event in your family’s journey. Take advantage of the opportunities to be together—those moments will build the path for your family’s legacy.
I am rooting for you!