When the Christmas season arrived I wondered how I would “celebrate” this season behind the walls of Kansas State Penitentiary (New Lansing Correctional facility). I was assigned there as a Catholic chaplain in July of 1970. I had read articles telling how some people experienced depression during this time of joy and hope. Surely prison would bring a sense of loss and isolation.
Little did I know that early in November our prison Christmas season would begin with a visit from the Salvation Army staff. With them would come colorful catalogs of age-appropriate toys and gifts. Each inmate could select two gifts (sports equipment, dolls, books, games, etc.) for each of his children. These gifts would be wrapped, tagged with names (to and from) and delivered to the prison in early December when Christmas visits began.
Inside the prison chapel, the Beacon of Hope choir practiced their carols and hymns. Also the chapel was presented with Christmas cards from Hallmark. The selection included the “Ebony” line for families of color.
The highlight of the season came at Christmas Eve Mass. A group of Sisters of Charity were invited to come and bring a selection of candies. Mass was celebrated with Father John Stitz and Protestant Chaplain Jim Post on the altar. After Mass the inmates served coffee and cheese snacks appropriated from the prison dining hall.
I left the walls feeling that a new “Nativity” was experienced by all of us, prisoners and guests.
Ed Simons, SCLA