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During the Holiday season incarcerated people experience many different emotions. Feelings of despair set in, and loneliness envelops them. These are some of the feelings that plagued Raiveon “Ray Ray” Wooden, Steve Brooks, and Vincent O’Bannon during the 2021 Holiday season.
“Thanksgiving and Christmas are always stressful for me,” said Wooden in an interview 14 days before Thanksgiving 2021.
Wooden has been incarcerated for seven years. He said that out of all the holidays that happen throughout the year, Christmas is the most stressful for him. “Just a kid at heart,” he said. He really misses the rituals of celebrating that he and his family used to follow. One of those fun activities was sitting around the TV and watching his favorite fictitious Christmas movie, The Grinch.
“I miss fellowshipping with my family like that. Those were some of my favorite times I remember. So, now I just watch The Grinch on my TV when it comes on, just to feel like I’m with them for the holidays — even though it’s not physically, but it’s spiritual,” said Wooden.
The Grinch and other holiday cartoons like A Charlie Brown Christmas and Frosty the Snowman are what many people grew up watching, and they can relate to Wooden’s holiday ritual. Many incarcerated individuals are stuck watching their televisions around the holidays.
During the holidays, the prison experiences lockdowns due to staff shortages, which also increases the stress level on the incarcerated, according to Steve Brooks.
“Thanksgiving is the worst for me. We don’t get no mail for four days; we shut down early while the staff go celebrate. We don’t get the full experience of the program around those times,” said Brooks.
Brooks is correct: prison staff close the prison down early so that they can feed all the residents. And after the meals are dispersed, the incarcerated have to celebrate the holidays inside of their cells.
It’s nothing like celebrating the holidays with family and some good food. The incarcerated have to go through the holiday season without the comfort of being with those they love.
For Vince O’Bannon, the prison visiting structure allowed at least some relief from his holiday blues when his wife would visit. Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic made those holiday visits a distant memory.
“This may be the most trying time for me because of visiting. They only allow a certain amount of people in the visiting room at a time. As far as missing something, I not only miss my family, I really miss my wife’s cooking,” said O’Bannon.
O’Bannon says he really misses her mac and cheese and collard greens, which he could eat a whole pot of. But what he misses the most are the times when he would go out and shop for his favorite fresh Honey Baked Ham.
“I try not to think about it that much because I would get depressed. So I look at the positive side of things in everything,” said O’Bannon.
–Villa Marin, Benjamin Marquez and Anthony Manuel Caravalho contributed to this story.