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Thanksgiving in Prison

For many of us, Thanksgiving represents a time to gather with loved ones, eat copious amounts of food, watch football, and express gratitude for the blessings in our lives. But for those spending the holiday in prison, Thanksgiving can feel very different. The reality of being incarcerated places many restrictions on one’s daily life, from rigid schedules to limits on outside communication. These constraints make spending Thanksgiving behind bars an especially isolating and challenging experience.

Daily Life in Prison

In prison, daily life is highly regimented. Inmates must follow strict schedules for things like meals, privileges, head counts, and lights out. There is little autonomy or flexibility from one day to the next. Access to telephones, email, or video chats with loved ones may be limited as well. With such constraints in place day-in and day-out, getting into the holiday spirit can seem next to impossible.

Preparing a Thanksgiving Meal

Even if inmates want to prepare a special Thanksgiving dish or meal, the resources to do so are scarce. The ingredients and foods available are restricted to what the prison chooses to provide. And cooking equipment like ovens or stove tops for inmates to use are rare. At best, those incarcerated may be served a modest Thanksgiving-style meal on the holiday. But having no control over the menu makes the meal far less special.

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Spending Time with Loved Ones

Loved ones can request visitation over the Thanksgiving weekend. However, the visitor application process is lengthy, with background checks and paperwork to complete. Prison visitors must also adhere to strict dress code and security screening procedures too. If visits are approved, there are limitations on physical contact allowed. The visits themselves may feel rushed or lacking in privacy as well. Those realities make physically reuniting with family for the holiday difficult in most cases.

Finding Reasons to Be Thankful

Despite the bleakness being incarcerated can instill, maintaining hope and a positive attitude is important. Prison chaplains often hold special religious services over Thanksgiving that aim to lift the spirits and remind those incarcerated that they are not forgotten. Inmates can also correspond with relatives to share messages of gratitude and support. Finding purpose while serving one’s sentence, through activities like learning new skills, is important too. Such outlets help prisoners retain their self-worth and dignity.

After the Holiday

After the Thanksgiving weekend ends, inmates must carry on with prison routines as usual. The return to strictly regimented schedules and policies after getting a small taste of holiday freedom can plunge prisoners into depression or sadness. But prison support services, like access to counselors or support groups, help inmates process those feelings. Building camaraderie with fellow inmates can also help those struggling feel less isolated.

Making the Best of It

At the end of the day, those spending Thanksgiving in prison must find appreciation for the small comforts they do have access to behind bars – a warm meal, a kind word from a guard or volunteer, or sacred time of religious observance. Staying determined and maintaining one’s dignity, despite the limitations incarceration enforced, is important too. The holiday will come and go each year, but persevering through the sentence with humanity and hope is what matters most.

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The experience of spending Thanksgiving in jail or prison separates incarcerated people from the traditions most Americans associate with the holiday. Rigid schedules, restrictions on gathering with loved ones, inability to prepare festive meals, and post-holiday depression plague prisoners during this family-centered celebration. Yet supportive services, community with fellow inmates, messages from caring relatives and finding purpose in one’s days can lift the spirits. Discovering gratitude, even in small blessings, and retaining one’s sense of self-worth helps incarcerated individuals endure their sentences with dignity. For those behind bars at Thanksgiving, maintaining hope and appreciation for what they do have must sustain them through the bleakness of this holiday.

Frequently Asked Questions

What special accommodations are made for Thanksgiving meals in prisons?

Prisons often slightly modify meals around Thanksgiving by offering turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pie to inmates. But food variety and quality depends greatly on the individual facility.

Can inmates decorate their cells or living spaces for the holiday?

Decorating living quarters for holidays is generally prohibited, outside of small religious displays. Safety concerns and facility rules restrict personalization of cells.

Do prisoners prepare and share food amongst themselves?

Inmate access to cooking equipment, utensils and ingredient sharing is extremely limited due to strict regulations. Any cooking or food exchanged typically happens secretly.

Are inmates allowed to watch Thanksgiving Day parades or football games on TV?

Access to television, especially holiday programming, varies greatly depending on the security level of the facility. But opportunities are minimal for inmates to view special shows.

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Can counseling or support groups help inmates cope with holidays?

Yes. Many facilities offer counseling, faith-based services or peer support groups that aim to boost mental health and reduce isolation around challenging times like Thanksgiving.

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