Christmas Behind Bars

As of 2013 there were 2,220,300 men and women in prison in the United States; approximately 50,000 are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. At this Holiday Season, I wanted to share a few thoughts from those inside prison. The following thoughts are from letters I’ve received during 2015.

It’s been over a year since my release from isolation. I am now used to being around people, hot food, and coffee. And while everything I own in this world, my entire worldly possessions, can fit inside two cardboard boxes, compared to back then, I feel rich. Sure, there’re a few more things I’d like to have, and in time I’ll get them. But when you come from where I’ve been, complete and lasting nothingness, two boxes of property is like owning the entire world.

John Catanzarite, a prisoner in California, served 14 years of his sentence in solitary confinement. He is now in general population in a different facility.


What are you doing for Labor Day? There is nothing planned here but a two-meal day. Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you. They stopped serving eggs at breakfast here. [Breakfast is served at 2:00 a.m. at this facility.] Breakfast is kinda messed up with no eggs!! I don’t know if this is a permanent thing or not, but I guess it will be. Nothing much else new here to report.

George Cameron is serving a sentence of Life Without Parole in Alabama. He has been in the prison infirmary for the last five years.


How can I change? For me, it is a matter of telling myself to keep using all the willpower I have to keep making changes in my heart. I need to remember to turn my life over to God and let him lead me wherever he wants me to go.

Michael McKinney is serving a sentence of Life Without Parole in Florida, and was until very recently in solitary confinement. He is being considered for a change in classification that will move him into the general population.


But this is a new day, my thoughts are far less limiting. I believe that anything and everything is within my grasp. I’m certainly no monk. Meditation has become an important part of my life, but truth be known, I’m not even very good at it (though not for lack of trying). And that doesn’t seem to matter. I’m trying, and I know I’ll only get better.

John Purugganan is serving a sentence of Life Without Parole in California. His essay “You’re In Prison” was published in The Sun magazine; he is co-editor of the book of essays “Too Cruel, Not Unusual Enough,” written by prisoners across the U.S. serving Life Without Parole. He is currently writing a novel and a screenplay.

2 Responses to Christmas Behind Bars

  1. Susan Ellen Mesinai December 18, 2015 at 8:40 pm #

    I returned from Russia where I was doing investigative work — to learn that our prison population now far exceeds that of the Gulag. Since 2003 I have become close to another soul who has been unfairly convicted on a sentence of Life Without Parole.

    I cannot speak for that person, per se. He fortunately is not in solitary nor has he been
    and he maintains a positive spiritual attitude and outstanding patience. I have learned a great deal from his perceptions and ability to withstand. Sometimes I fear though he will not be able to do the time.

    When Troy Evans was executed (in spite of the protests from high level people and
    many at that from all over the world) — he commented that many think Life Without Parole is preferable to the Death Sentence. He does not see it that way — more a different kind of
    death. Those on Death Row also have a number of appeals to postpone their actual executions. Such advantages don’t exist for those who are on Life Without Parole.

    Probably the most difficult thing of all is that the man is innocent. There are all sorts of amnesties which are being offered to the guilty, some of whom did kill, but believe me–
    there is nothing out there for an innocent man whose crime cannot be overturned
    through DNA.

    So what does it mean: innocent until proven guilty — that description of American justice
    we used to take such pride in???? Those who are guilty may be set free through amnesty,
    but a man who is innocent would have to admit to the crime he did not commit in order to (maybe) get his Go Free card.

    Thanks Robert for including this on your website. I found each note quite special.

  2. Judy January 27, 2016 at 11:54 pm #

    Thanks for the great info dog I owe you bigygti.

Leave a Reply