Thanksgiving in Prison

Jason Neff

Jason Neff sent the following email -- via CorrLinks -- to friends and family members on Thanksgiving.  PrisonEducation.com thought it was worth reprinting.  We contacted Jason who kindly granted permission to share his heartfelt words.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I love you and miss you all. Know that I'm smiling this morning. I am very happy, as strange as that may sound. It is hard to say I'm "thankful" for a 5th Thanksgiving INCARCERATED but I do acknowledge the many blessings over these last years.

Of course I am thankful to be alive, and wow, to have email-access to send (this) message! I slept well in a warm bunk last night. I have one of 5 cells of 125 that have an actual sink with a handle (the others require a constant button push, which provides a 3 second stream of water). I have even pre-ordered an extra tray for the Thanksgiving meal today, the best of the year (in the feds) for only 10 stamps. On and on I could go...

I have learned to accept what I do have and be thankful. I have learned that worldly things do not equate to happiness. While most of America is sold on the NEW, BETTER, FASTER, more, more & more approach, I have, perforce, come to admire a minimalist approach. Though most of my life I have never had to go without, I've never really done without, never been deprived of much. In fact nearly everything I could ever was handed to me all my life; probably somewhat to my detriment. And regretfully, I was never thankful or even recognized it. I've had time to reflect, to grow, to think, and to learn - for that I am indeed thankful. This experience is humbling and eye opening. I've been forced to learn many things. Also to rescind control to my captors and the powers that be, to learn to accept things I cannot control. (I'm told when to stand up as I'm counted like an animal throughout the day, herded through a line for "chow" at specific times, permitted access to a shower room at specific times, etc.)

I prefer to focus on the many positives that are a direct result of my prison experience. Mostly the small things, always giving thanks and often to the overlooked simplicities that can make life easier or even beautiful. I much prefer to think about these positives, blessings, and what I have learned from this. I'm also thankful for the lifestyle I do have, if that even makes sense. The amenities or what some in this world would perhaps consider as luxuries, even here in this prison cell. I'm "ok" and as many in this world are struggling, or don't even have access to food, shelter, running water, etc. so again I'm thankful.

I would also like to mention the gratitude-list I started while incarcerated in the Hole (SHU) earlier this year. Though it was punishment, and intense restrictive conditions that deprived me of my rights, I'm still thankful for the painful experience. I did write and log some of the events throughout those 39 days, as I was trying to maintain sanity, as I considered suicide and struggled with the environment. The first day housed there I did try to focus on the positives and recognize anything beneficial or that would make me smile, or provide comfort. Some of the items include the sacred quietness, the birds chirping outside my 'open' window!, biscuits and gravy with real sausage chunks on Monday morning, and then thankfully the much prayed for rain to cool off the temp. It was 110+ in my cell for those 39 days, so I stood near the tiny window on the back wall of my 8’ x10’ "house" and my naked body was pelted with a barrage of raindrops of which slowly flooded my cell. 

Again, perception and perspective should not be ignored. In comparison to many in the world, I'm certainly far better off ... even in the confines of my jail cell, as painful as it can be.

I say this as my mind drifts back to a story that has been bothering me - in the latest issue of Mother Jones, titled *'The Hunger Game' by Shane Bauer. (*The Assad regime made headlines for using chemical weapons against its own people. But its main weapon is far more archaic and brutal.) Feel free to Google the article.

So I indeed have a lot to be thankful for: my health, my family, my upcoming freedom, etc. I'm extremely thankful for what I've learned, not only from some prisoners currently here, but many who are sitting in prisons across this country. Though I don't know what my attitude would be if I had spent 11-years in prison and still have 7 more to go. Or if I received a 40-year sentence as two of my dear friends. Or if I had served 30-years behind bars and knew that I could be there until I died. And missing another Thanksgiving holiday at home, it is very easy to be bitter and angry. But that is not what I hear from most of my peers in captivity or most of those I've had the opportunity to interact with. Yes, obviously I hear frustrations, but I also hear hope and gratitude. Some recent comments:  "We all change with time, I'm not the same man I was 18 years ago."  - "They have trees here, yes, I said trees! They did not have trees at (my last prison) not even a stupid bush. Here there is a nice big yard with a fence, so you can see the countryside, something I haven't seen in ten years. I am so glad." - "Once I am released from prison, I plan to start a nonprofit organization with my family to help troubled teens by teaching them the right thing to do in life to not end up in prison." - "No conviction can ever take away ....." Words like these from many behind bars demonstrate that everyone can find forgiveness, redemption, and gratitude no matter their circumstances. And for that I'm very thankful.

Wishing you the happiest Thanksgiving!

Love,

Jason