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Nov 22, 2013

The Criminal Justice System and Thanksgiving

Every year around Thanksgiving, I start to think about all of the families who have loved ones serving time in jail/prison during the holiday season.  For these families it is not a time of joyous holiday festivities it is a significant time of sadness in their lives.  Sadness that all of the family is not around the Thanksgiving table, celebrating the season.

As a young clinician I worked at a minimum security city jail that was more social work oriented than security oriented.  Volunteers from all walks of life flooded the jail with special dinners, clothes, and gifts for the inmates’ children who would come to visit.  I did not know any other jail at the time and thought that this was the norm, folks helping inmates during this time of the year.

Then I learned the stark reality of a jail/prison that is security oriented.  Sure, it is Thanksgiving and you miss your loved ones but this is a jail/prison.  Even if you are allowed to visit your loved one on or during the holiday season it is still not the same as having your family with you around the dining table, sharing their strengths and hope for the coming year. 

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics 674,054 inmates were admitted to our state prison systems in 2011 with 693,618 inmates being released from state prisons the same year.  So, when I tell people that many people leave prison and return to their community, the statistics would show that more people left prison in the given year than entered it.  They return to their families and to holidays, but also to bills, sometimes to homelessness, to unemployment, to addiction, to mental illness, to trauma and to whatever else was wrong in their life before prison.

Whether an individual is incarcerated due to making bad choices, or suffering from any of the serious health or social problems mentioned above, let Thanksgiving be the time that you give thanks for what is good and right in your life.  Let it also be a time to reach out to your corrections clients and let them know that there is hope for a life of “thanksgiving” upon release.
Nancy White is a counselor who has spent much of her professional life working in corrections. 

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