Sending Love to People Behind Bars This Holiday Season

November 28, 2018

I remember the holiday season during my sixth year in prison. I hadn’t seen my daughter since my arrest, and I longed to be able to see her face when she opened presents on Christmas morning. The extreme separation from my family created an agonizing emptiness that persisted despite my efforts to create a community of friends inside the prison walls. The pain was especially harsh that year because my father had died the month before. He died never getting to see the type of life I would build following my release from prison.

On Christmas Eve, a correctional officer came into the dorm to hand out mail. It would be the last mail call before the mail room closed for the holidays, and I quietly prayed to hear from a friend or family member who hadn’t reached out during my long years away. The officer called out names and I could see the looks of happiness on lucky faces. He reached the end of the pile and didn’t call my name.

I returned to my bunk, battling against self-pity. I reminded myself that my mother had sent a card and put additional money on my commissary account so that I could replace my running shoes. I had already received a hand-drawn card from my daughter. It suddenly occurred to me that my good friend, Terry, received no cards that year. His mother had died years before and his natural father had died that year. His brother was in prison in South Texas. He was very much alone. I went to his bunk to chat with him, telling him how glad I was that I would be able to spend Christmas with him that year.

For people who are incarcerated, this time of year can be incredibly lonely. Thankfully, some amazing organizations are working hard to show people in Texas prisons that they are not forgotten.

Here are some of those efforts and how you can help:

  • Syndeo Ministries’ Christmas in White. For the fourth year, Syndeo Ministries will be providing gifts of hygiene products to women who wouldn't have them otherwise. Christmas in White started with one unit, but in 2018 they will be providing gifts to 12 women’s units in Texas! Help almost 6,000 women by purchasing Christmas cards drawn by their discipleship leader inside the Lane Murray Unit in Gatesville. Five hand-drawn cards are $10, which provides one hygiene package for one woman inside. Find out more here.
     
  • Truth Be Told’s Very Merry Mail Call. Truth Be Told is hosting their second annual “Very Merry Mail Call” card-writing party and fundraiser on Saturday, December 1, from 1pm to 3:30pm at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Austin. Truth Be Told wants to ensure the women enrolled in their programs at three Central Texas prisons receive a little holiday cheer in the mail this year! Several of their graduates who have returned home to start new chapters in their lives will also be on the mailing list. Join them for an afternoon of writing holiday cards and making Truth bracelets for the justice-involved women they serve. Holiday treats, greeting cards, and stamps will be provided. Suggested donation at the door. RSVP here.
     
  • Free Battered Texas Women’s Holiday Card-Signing Party. First Unitarian Universalist of San Antonio is hosting a free holiday card-signing party on Saturday, December 8, from 12pm to 2pm in the Jefferson Building. These cards will be provided to the incarcerated members of Free Battered Texas Women. The street address is 7150 W. Interstate 10. For more information, contact Cathy Marston at cmarston.fbtw@gmail.com.
     
  • Epicenter’s Christmas Card Campaign. Epicenter is working to send Christmas cards to people sentenced as kids to extreme sentences in Texas prisons. If you’d like to help, contact Deanna Luprete at (832) 659-6371.
     
  • Texas Inmate Families Association (TIFA). Many TIFA chapters send Christmas cards to people who are incarcerated during the holidays. To find out what your local chapter is doing, email Lauren Oertel at lauren.o.tifa@gmail.com.
About the Author: 

Douglas Smith, M.S.S.W.

Senior Policy Analyst

As TCJC's lead Policy Analyst working on adult criminal justice issues, Doug's expertise is focused on reducing Texas’ over-reliance on incarceration and improving outcomes for hundreds of thousands of Texans who have been involved in the justice system.  Doug earned his M.S.S.W. from the University of Texas, was a Legislative Director for a member of the Texas House of Representatives, and is an active member of his community, serving on various boards and committees. His passion for criminal justice reform stems from his personal experience serving six years in prison for crimes committed as a direct outcome of addiction.  Doug has been part of the TCJC team since 2015, and you can learn more about him here.