I was sitting in my recovery support group over the weekend while we discussed ways of staying clean and sober over the holidays. It got me to thinking about things we have to be careful about during the holidays as people coming home from prison. I asked around to a number of people I know who have successfully met the challenge.
Everyone agreed that we have to avoid alcohol and drugs. I laughed about that one, because I try to stay away from those on any day ending in “y.”
Making sure we are not around people who are carrying, or still involved in illegal activities came up more than once. For many of us, that’s a condition of parole or probation, and one third of state prison admissions are for violations.
One person talked about “the emotional pressure that in order to “succeed” one must lavish gifts on family…at a time when he/she can’t possibly afford to purchase such gifts.” Churches and friends could show love and assist that individual in seeing the value of first being present, not to necessarily give a present. If able to assist with getting presents, supportive people should first focus on the joy of belonging home. Presence beats presents.
On a positive note, we can reflect on the true meaning of the season, whether Christmas, New Year’s, Kwanza…a time to reconnect with family and friends who are committed to supporting us in making changes necessary for a positive reintegration into the community.
One pastor, who leads a congregation in Philadelphia made up primarily of formerly incarcerated persons and their families, offered this:
“I find that most who have been incarcerated for long periods of time are overwhelmed by the world they encounter. It is often very different from what they envisioned and even though they have spent much time planning and getting ready for release, they find that the plans they made will not work in a world they know very little about. Much of the work we do at LIFE Ministry at Living Gospel is emotional support and self-esteem building during the first month or so after release for those who have been away from community for long periods.”
She continues that it is important for those who want to help to understand that they do not have to know how to do it all. “Knowing where to send folks to get the resources and support they need is also extremely important. In our zeal to be helpful, we often do the exact opposite by giving folks information that is incorrect or out of date; being aware of the resources in your community can often be the best addition to your toolbox.”
There is support for us in this season. But we also have to take responsibility for our own decisions. Be well, and be careful this holiday season. I’ve had prison roast beef on Christmas…I’ll take turkey at home this year.