womn cartoon prison writing

Happy December! This Winter, Send Some Holiday Love To Victims of Mass Incarceration

It’s the last month of what has been an incredibly damaging year for many people in the United States, especially for those belonging to the most marginalized and vulnerable communities. With attorney general Jeff Sessions looking to double down on mass incarceration and restart the war on drugs by instituting terrible, discredited and racially charged ‘tough on crime’ policies and president Trump’s damaging and false scaremongering on crime rates, this year, and the next three to come, will be especially hard on the incarcerated and their family members. The incarcerated population in this country, as a reminder, is disproportionately Black and Latino, resulting in them being doubly vulnerable to terrible policies from the executive and the judiciary.

Holiday season can be especially lonely for the incarcerated and their families, even during ‘better’ political years. The distance from family, warmth, love and festivities has been described as ‘damaging‘ to already vulnerable inmates. Some prisoners are locked in the ‘hole’, or in solitary confinement during holiday season, cutting them off human contact and communication.  Family members feel a mixture of grief and guilt at celebrating without loved ones on the table.

At this especially bleak time, it’s a good idea for those of us who have the privilege, energy, and capacity to share some holiday love, messages, thoughts and even financial support with the victims of mass incarceration. Holiday letters can help remind those in prison that there are those of us that care and stand with them in trying political times and that we believe their treatment by a broken system is unjust and not reflective of their worth as a person. It can help remind them and us that we stand together as a united community in the face of an oppressive political regime.

Here are five ways to send some holiday love — and create new relationships — with our community members in prison:

  1. Fair Shakes Reentry Resource Center and Black and Pink are prisoner advocacy programs that help you send holiday messages year round; often prison advocacy movements local to your state offer similar programs as well. Many of these programs also offer ways to find year-round pen-pals, which can be a fantastic 2018 commitment to directly show some love and solidarity with the incarcerated year round.
  2. It’s been a landmark year for the recognition of sexual assault as widespread and endemic, but the focus has often been on upper-middle-class white women survivors. Sexual assault is rife in prison, and incarcerated survivors denied justice and support. Just Detention International coordinates a program to send survivors cards during the holiday season, and you can send your own message here.
  3. Send a gift to a child of an incarcerated mother here in support of the Holiday Solidarity Toy Drive in Solidarity with Incarcerated Moms. The drive is organized by the Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration in community with Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM), and Nehemiah Trinity RisingLifted Voices, Love and Protect, and Chicago League of Abolitionist Whites, and has been in operation for the past 3 years. These are often the only toys these children will get, so make sure to get something in by the December 19th deadline.
  4. Prison Culture and Steps to End Family Violence is organizing a Holiday Family Reunification event on December 12 for criminalized survivors to spend a day with their children and other family members at Rikers. Bit of a tight deadline, but if you manage to use your Amazon Prime account to get in gifts by December 10th, they can take all your generous contributions to make the holiday reunion just a little bit brighter!
  5. Educational programming at prisons can often be bleak; often incarcerated folks looking to educate themselves are punished, not rewarded. People in prison are often hungry for more resources and more books. Several organizations let you spread the wonderful and world opening gift of literature to those in prison; the Prison Book Programme in Massachusetts, Prison Literature Projectin SF; LGBT Books to Prisoners; Chicago Books to Women in Prison; and Books to Prisoners in Seattle are but a few options. Don’t forget to check in with each program’s needs. Most of these programs are year round, too — so keep them on your radar whenever you have spare books to share!

These options aren’t all that’s out there. Make sure to keep an eye out for local holiday writing parties or donation drives; many prisoner advocacy coalitions organize them locally and it’s a good way to connect with those passionate about race and incarceration in your local area.

Happy Holidays!

Header image via WikiHow.


Meg is a law student in California. She's interested in law and politics, intersectional feminism, criminal justice, human rights, freedom of the press, the law and feminism, and the politics of South Asia.

Meg is a law student in California. She's interested in law and gender, race and criminal justice, human rights, cats, and sports.

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