Prison Christmas: Grim or Grins?

Posted: 26 December 2016 in Cultural, Prisons, Understanding Others
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As the prisoners come in, they wish me “Happy Christmas”.  Many of them anyway, and with cheery grins.  I was surprised.  They were glad to see us doing music for the Christmas Eve service.  Glad that there was something on for Christmas, glad to be glad-handed.

Trouble over Christmas period in prisons?  Perhaps in HMP Cardiff yesterday.  Not where I’ve been.  I’ve been inside twice this month, including Christmas Eve.  There was more natter than normal, and it had an “edge”.  Yet, no more than that.

No one wants trouble.  (Well, hardly anyone).  But Christmas is not great being inside.  Prison numbers not fallen and average sentences up 2 months.  The Prison Officers don’t want trouble either.  Staff numbers have been cut by 20% (MoJ 2010 to 2014), so they have to do a bit more with less.  Interestingly, between Prison Officers and prisoners, it is less just a bit less of “them and us” on Christmas.

At Security, going in, we joined the queues of people trying to see their loved ones.  Mums and dads, wives, girlfriends, brothers, their children.  Quite cheery, as if they were queuing at a supermarket checkout at Christmas.   One offender said, earlier “it hits home, your separation, when you actually speak to your kids on the phone.  They tell you what they are doing.  Their lives move on.  But yours doesn’t.”

Christmas time TV.  It’s the ads they groan at.  The invitation to eat-drink-&-be-merrie”.  The Christmas message.  As for The Alternative Christmas Message:
– of being a long way from home
– of being in fear, or at least – circumstances not of your choosing
– of hope coming from beyond everything we know and understand
– of hope to a place where you feel no hope.

This can have real traction.  Jesus’ Incarnation is more likely to be understood behind bars, than in front. I’d wager that The Alternative Christmas Message, is more likely to be found in prison than many other places this week.



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