thanksgiving in jail

by caitlin meredith

razor wire fenceIn September I started teaching a journalism class at the county jail here in Austin. The homework assignment I left the students with before Thanksgiving was to write a review of something they experienced either in jail or in their past: a TV show, a movie, a concert. I gave them five minutes of class time to get started.

One woman started hers about a fancy hotel she’d stayed at in Dallas called Hotel Zaza. She talked about the lobby, the decorations and the high thread count beds. The woman sitting next to her also evaluated beds, but her review was of the psychiatric unit of the County Jail. That promised to be a much more interesting subject but unfortunately class time ran out before she could read beyond her first paragraph.

When I came back this Wednesday I got to hear their final drafts. They were great. The woman who had written about the psych unit had been transferred to a rehab program so I didn’t get to hear hers, but the others entertained with sharp commentary on cooking and singing reality shows. The real standout, however, was a review one student wrote about spending Thanksgiving in jail. With her permission, but without her name, I’m sharing it here.

Turkey Day in County Jail

One can easily be curmudgeonly, prematurely humbuggerish, if you will.

I embraced the day differently than most. I made a concerted choice to be thankful.

For the most part, the day was like most days in jail. Breakfast was served a little earlier than usual, but it was not the sack lunch we were prepared to receive. It was an everyday breakfast.

I noticed a few well wishers on the day besides myself. Some were sarcastic and snarky, but what’s new about that?

Lunch was a wonderful surprise. We had a regular Thanksgiving meal circa school cafeteria days. We even had a parfait style dessert. The food was good and more than enough! I was very impressed.

We were given a sack lunch for dinner that had cookies and a fruit bar.

But, I really was not that interested in what I ate, but rather the care and compassion showed to us by the staff at County Jail.

I want to express my thankfulness for the kitchen staff and trustees who did their very best with what they had to make all of us feel connected to the day.

The guards who wished us well and smiled lovingly while we cried into plastic receivers I love you’s to our loved ones.

The inmates who found a way to find joy in the day and for the sake of their neighbors held their complaints and gripes.

And finally, to God, who in His infinite love, mercy, grace provided me with the most important thing I’m thankful for…forgiveness.