Being in prison is never fun. It’s not supposed to be. But being in prison during the holidays can threaten to drain your soul.
As the holidays rolled around on my second year in prison, I was struggling. Nothing remotely resembled the holiday spirit. I couldn't stop comparing the utter bleakness of where I was, with the memories of Christmases past. I couldn't stop thinking about all the things I missed: family, bright Christmas decorations, Mom's fruitcake, and even raisins. I loved raisins but hadn't seen a single one in over two years.
Oh, there was a Christmas tree in the prison library. A sad sight, it was littered with dull, plastic, unbreakable ornaments so that we inmates wouldn't use them for weapons. It had no lights, because we might steal those for the wire to make any number of illegal devices. (Prison inmates, if nothing else, are extraordinarily innovative.) So for me, beholding that sad plastic tree, comparing it to the glorious Christmas trees of my youth, was almost more depressing than no tree at all.
And then, a week before Christmas, the correction officers—“Co’s” we called them—came around passing out little gift bags to all of us. A local church had taken it upon themselves to provide the inmates with a small touch of Christmas. My bag held some homemade cookies, a brownie, some chocolates, an orange, an apple, and at the very bottom, a treasure beyond measure. It was a small box of Sun Maid Raisins. In that moment, looking at my little gift bag, all the spirit of Christmas and God's love came together for me in that small box of raisins. God loved me and had moved someone, somewhere, to provide his child with a gift he needed.
The cookies, the goodies, and the fruit were delicious. After two years of institutional food, anything homemade or fresh off the tree delighted my taste buds. My stomach was happy, my heart was happy, and, for the moment anyway, it felt like Christmas. I even looked at the Christmas tree in the prison library in a new light. It really wasn't that bad, considering.
I rationed my treasures, stretching them out until Christmas Day when I finished the box. There would be more holidays in prison before I was freed, but no more raisins. That was the last I would see of them for another four years. But in the years ahead, God would teach me not to wait for the spirit of Christmas to come to me, as it had with my raisins, but rather to seek it out. To look for it in the little things of the season. To seek it out, as I had sought him. He taught me you can find the spirit of Christmas in the smallest things … even a box of raisins.
(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jade.)
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