Oakdale Chronicles delivers a moving Christmas reverie in which an inmate wonders how to celebrate Christmas while in prison, far from family, friends and familiar traditions.Those of us who have loved ones in prison know that, even with additional treats served up by the prison administration, the holiday season must be bereft of celebration for them. It must be impossible to celebrate the Nativity in such hostile surroundings.
George, the inmate, remembers the Christmases of his childhood.
On Christmas Eve, we would pile into the station wagon and head for church. It was the one time of the year my Mom had no trouble getting the whole family to go to church; mostly because Santa came to our house while we were at the evening service.
I would sit in the pew imagining what Santa was doing moment by moment. Was he enjoying the milk and cookies we’d left?Surely our family members locked away from us must have the same moment-by-moment imaginings. Has my family opened gifts yet? Did they decorate the house the way we always did? Are they at church now?
Were the other reindeer jealous of Rudolph because we only left one carrot especially for him, or did he share by letting a different reindeer eat the carrot at each new house? Rudolph was the most popular with all of my neighborhood friends, so I knew no one ever thought of Blitzen or Prancer by leaving more than one carrot. Did Rudolph remember the pain of being left out of the reindeer games, which is why he gave his carrot away as an act of forgiveness?Forgiveness. How many hours inside prison walls are spent contemplating forgiveness?
My favorite part of the service ... was when Minister Peters asked us all to kneel as he read the Christmas story, Luke 2:1-20 (RSV).
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus…,” and as he read, the organist began to quietly play an interlude into the hymn Silent Night. The lights over the congregation were dimmed down and out so only the altar was swathed in bright light.
“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth…,” and the congregation softly joined the organ and sang as underscoring to the minister’s narration.
When the lyrics started, an acolyte took the center candle of the Advent wreath and lit the handheld candles of the first person seated in the front row on both sides of the center aisle.The candlelight is passed from person to person.
I tipped my unlit candle into my Mom’s flame and then turned to offer my light to my sister. And so it moved down the pew...
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men…”Immersed in his memories of how Christmas used to be and trying to find a way to celebrate, George thinks:
“Christ the Savior is born…Christ the Savior is born.”In that candlelight, with tears of joy streaming down my face and my soul wide open, I understood the mystery of God and the truth of Christmas.
I’m not sure how I’ll recapture those feelings of Christmas while I’m here at Oakdale FCI. Without family, longtime friends, and all the traditions that go with celebrating Christmas, it could become a bleak midwinter’s night. How can the light shine here?
That star, and all the stars that filled the night sky, reminded me that I am free, even though I am imprisoned. Funny how reminders of comfort and love are often right in front of our eyes, if we only open our souls to see.
There will be no traveling for me this year, and I definitely don’t have any gifts to bear. I don’t even have a drum on which to play a song; however, my heart does beat the rhythm of life. A life that can once again kneel, see the light, feel the light, and pass that light on to others. With that knowledge in my soul, I am more free inside this prison than many who sit in their homes before a warming fire, or even some who sit in the packed pews on Christmas Eve.Think of it. It is possible to be more free inside prison than outside because of Christmas.
I pray that inside or outside the prison walls, we can approach the manger with our souls wide open and gently, jubilantly, pass the Light to others.