The question almost always comes up around this time of year. First, the volunteers pause, as their inward struggle plays across their face. Is this question appropriate? Will asking it make him uncomfortable? Slowly, they resolve the conflict in their mind and gain a look of acceptance. In that moment I see it coming and share the slightest of smiles with myself.

“What are the holidays like in here?” they ask.

It is a question that each incarcerated person has to address for him or herself early in their detainment. Fairly quickly, I believe, we lose our sentimentality and learn not to linger too long in our nostalgia. Instead, holidays are about two things for us: spreads and sports.

The spread: step one, you and your closest 5-10 guys are going to eat a meal together. Figure out who is buying what; who is buying the rice, chili beans, cheese, sriracha sauce, meat logs, sodas and chips. Step two, assign someone cooking duties. This person should have a resume of notable spreads for important events. You don’t want to find out that the person cooking has no idea what they are doing on the eve of the big game. Step three, create a timeline. If the game starts at 3pm, we’ll eat about 1pm. Step four, bring your bowl and spork at the appointed time.

Typically, by the time the game comes on, we’ll either be locked in our cells, or will be soon. That’s because prisons don’t change the program very much for holidays. No matter what, we’re going to lock up at a certain time for count. No matter what the dayroom will close for an hour or two.

While we’re locked in our cells, the game is on and the building is rocking. People are yelling, cheering, cursing out the refs, arguing the calls. The fix is in, no way should those bums be beating the greatest franchise in the history of the game, that coach is an idiot, and where in the hell is Colin Kaepernick? (Just as a side note, just about everybody I know support Kap, but boycotting the games is a bridge too far, especially considering how essential sports ate to our sanity in here). Sometimes I feel for those three or four guys in the building who don’t watch ports, but then someone scores a touchdown and I forget about it, start back yelling at my TV, and listening to whoever’s talking trash on the tier.

At some point during the game, the cells will be unlocked and it’ll be time to go get our state issued meals. Bless their hearts, they try. Usually we get a slice of turkey, another slice of turkey ham (don’t ask), a teaspoon of mashed potatoes, stuffing, some desert we don’t get very often. That last part varies from prison to prison, it may be a slice of pie, or a piece of cake. Since the game is still on, most of us take our bowls to the chow hall, throw the items we want into it, and dash back to the cell.

After the game ends, it’s time to go play I told you. The trick is to find some aspect of the game you predicted, and the person you predicted it to, and tell them, “I told you that was going to happen.” Oh, and also to make some more predictions. Since my team won, they’re probably going to the super bowl. You’re just hating because your team is garbage. No joke, I’m surprised they haven’t kicked them out of the league yet.

Then, as the evening winds down, it’s time to return to the cell. Hopefully there is a good movie on. In the morning, we’ll go to breakfast, talk a little more trash, and looking forward to the next holiday games.

Written by James King

James recently had his sentence commuted by Governor Brown and will go before the parole board as early as this spring, to be considered for release. He is incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison.

You may write to him at the following address:

James King CDCR # V-69030

San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA 94974

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