A Different Holiday Party

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All over New York people are going to holiday parties. That includes me, which makes this year very different from December 2003. Last year at this time I was in an alternative-to-incarceration program for women called Project Greenhope. I was glad to be in a program and not in prison, but sad not to be able to go home for the holidays.

This season was different: on Saturday, December 18th, I went to a holiday party organized by the Coalition for Women Prisoners, a group dedicated to changing the way the criminal justice system treats women. The women brought their children, talked to each other, shared experiences and ideas, learned about ways to get involved in advocacy, ate good food, watched videos, and received gifts. The event was a celebration of a community of women determined to live with dignity and hope “on the outside,” to re-integrate into society, and to make a contribution.

It is a horrible feeling to be incarcerated during this season, alone and without your family. My holiday message is to remind everyone that incarcerated women want to be with their loved ones and enjoy the holiday spirit too. More alternative programs would keep many women, most of us mothers, from going to prison in the first place. If women were in these programs instead of prison, they would be able to rebuild their lives and their families, and society wouldn’t have to pay such a big price.

While we shop and drink and eat and sing, let’s remember the women who will not open gifts, sit around the fireplace, or eat a meal with their families this year. Let’s make our holiday toasts and New Year’s resolutions not just to quit smoking and go to the gym, but to work together as a society, to make a criminal justice system that really is just.