What is Christmas Like in Prison?

By Mirabella Booth


Prison is bleak and stark, but even the most hardcore of convicts need some holiday cheer. Different sources depict different experiences. Christmas in prison varies from institution to institution but at the end of the day, Christmas in prison doesn't compare to Christmas in the real world. But some institutions put forth effort to ensure inmates feel some holiday cheer.


For some inmates, it’s just another day on the calendar. They’re more concerned with gangs, drugs, and the politics of prison. Same for the staff, some correctional officers and administrative officials could care less. But every institution has a nationally mandated Christmas dinner of Cornish pie, corn, stuffing, and pie.


Whether or not the institution is decorated varies. High-security institutions tend to shy away from decorations because decorations could be used as weapons. Lower security institutions tend to be more lax on decorations. Prisoners get creative, with cardboard Christmas trees, stockings on a cardboard fireplace, and cardboard gingerbread houses.


Presents are frowned upon. Inmates who receive presents instantly have a target on their backs. Often, Inmates are forbidden from receiving gifts from visitors. Some generous institutions give inmates goodie bags with candy and other edible treats. The contents of these bags are bartered between inmates.


Institutions are low staffed on Holidays so visitation often occurs on the day after Christmas. Those who wish to speak to their loved ones on Christmas must fight for a place on the phone.


The majority of the day is spent playing cards, board games, or watching basketball games. Institutions tend to be more lenient by allowing fun activities, but still must follow their daily routine.


Some aspects of prison are altered to make inmates feel the holiday spirit. But at the end of the day, a Christmas spent in prison is a Christmas spent without family, home-cooked dinner, meaningful presents, etc. Inmates are given a break from mundane prison life and can feel some Christmas joy.