Sunday, January 3, 2010


Christmas in prison is a time of great ambivalence. The pains of imprisonment can become grossly magnified, the separation from loved ones more acute than normal. Some prisons make a small effort to ameliorate this. It was the case that we could have blank Xmas cards posted in to us by family or friends, which we could sign and return in bulk for family to post. It sounds like a small thing, but with our average wage being around £7 then having the cost of the cards and postage borne by family or friends is a significant help. And so the governor has now forbidden this practice.
Christmas is a cultural artefact that is uniformly imposed upon the land, it is inescapable. And we would like to join in, in some way. Good food, drink, jollity and awful TV are expected. To be surrounded by friends and family is central. And yet we are prevented from indulging in most of these celebrations. Hence our ambivalence.
Each of us deals with Xmas in a different way. Traditionally, I would be running around trying to find dope so that Xmas is obscured in a haze of THC smoke. Such is the absence of a drug culture here, though, I'm going to have to face it stone cold sober. Some embrace it with a vengeance, displaying reams of Xmas cards and rushing to the phones at unlock on the big day to call home.
Last year I became deeply anti-social, growling at any random half-wit who wished me a Merry Xmas. I scrounged a DVD player and someone was kind enough to lend me a box set of Star Trek Enterprise. Xmas week vanished as I locked my door and watched 70 hours of SciFi. It sounds terribly nerdy but I defend myself with two words - Jolene Blalock.
All of us like to have a blow-out, the chance to stuff our faces with Quality Street and pop. This requires we begin saving many weeks ahead and, for the unemployed like myself, is a non-starter. If I can just keep myself in tobacco over the holiday I'll be happy.
And yet if Xmas wasn't marked, we would be outraged. We have a little tree on the landing and the suicide netting is woven with flashing light-rope. The reality is that this is like sprinkling sugar on a turd but if it wasn't done, we wouldn't be happy.
Some years ago we helped decorate a tree with the packets that phone-cards were issued in. It looked quite good. Someone then set fire to it. As I said, the ambivalence runs deep.
 Editor's note: Ben is glad Christmas is over for another year, but asked me to put this post up anyhow.


  1. Wow...that one made me feel quite emotional.

  2. I'm glad it's over for another year too! I had been wondering about how it was for you and your fellows. Why why why did they stop the Christmas card thing?

  3. Makes one feel quite sad. How petty to stop the Christmas cards -I always say the people outside suffer as much as those inside and making it almost impossible to receive a card from a loved one in prison is pathetic - let's hope that governor gets no cards from his loved ones next year!

    I'm gald it's over as well - this is the fourth Christmas that my loved one has been in prison - with an 18month IPP that expired over two years ago. What has happened to our justice system?

  4. Look on the bright side ben, you don't have to go in a supermarket, and witness all those greedy faces pile up the shopping as if it needed to last a year, and it takes ages to que up to pay, ditto shops, where everything is gonna be half the price the week after, and now the credit card bills, aaaarrrhhhggg! your not missing much ben, i am glad it's all over too. x

  5. Thanks for writing this blog, Ben.