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. - RM

John Catanzarite

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.

George Cameron

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.

Michael McKinney

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.

John Purugganan

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.