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On the outside, the festive season is brandy by the log fire, presents under the tree and good times with loved ones. It’s the joy of nostalgia as well as making new memories. On the inside, it’s a day filled mostly with regret. If prison is breaking you, Christmas will destroy you.

For many on short sentences which take them through Christmas, I found the prisoners virtually ignored the season altogether, knowing they could have a better one next year. For those with years to serve, it was different. They had to make the best of it. Most would save up their phone money and have a longer call home. Others chose not to be reminded of what they were missing and didn’t come out of their cells.

A phone call home was always bittersweet. Many prisoners had committed serious crimes after years or even decades of poor choices around drugs and alcohol. It was only as they were forced into sobriety inside that they realised just what they’d lost or ruined. Their child crying because they weren’t going to be at home that year often reduced the hardest cons to snivelling wrecks.

I remember one guy lurching back to his cell, shaking his head. He said he could hear sparkling wine corks popping in the background. He still had four more years to endure.

The prison used to give everyone £2 credit at Christmas, which was about 15 minutes. When I asked why so little, they said that otherwise the phones would be busy all day and fights would ensue. Prisons are often described as powder kegs. Christmas was always brilliant for explosions under stress.

The female side of the jail was incredibly depressing. It’s bound to be worse if the primary or sole caregiver has found themselves in prison and the children are in care.

Obviously, the inmates would start brewing hooch from mid-November, but it’s a long way from a fine Sherry. If luke-warm rotting fruit is your thing, enjoy. The officers usually found it all, anyway.

I remember working with an inmate called Steve just before Christmas on the sex offenders’ wing. He was a ruined creature whose nineteen-year-old girlfriend had dumped him because he was acting strange. He stabbed her thirty-three times, rolled her up in towels, and left her in his back garden. Local plod managed to solve this without the any help. He’d later receive a life sentence.

I’d never known him receive a letter, never mind a visitor other than his solicitor. I’d not even seen him use the phone. But someone sent him a Christmas card. We were supposed to check some of the inmate’s mail to make sure they weren’t communicating with people they shouldn’t. It was the first opportunity for him that I’d had, so I opened up that card. It said;

I know no one in the family will talk to you any more. I can’t even begin to understand what you’ve done. But you’ll always be my grandson, and I’ll always be your nanny. Happy Christmas, Steve.

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