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This article was first published on PJP in 2020.

The holiday season in prison can be very miserable and quite depressing. Being separated from family members and friends becomes especially trying. To relieve the pain at that time of year, I often think back to my childhood.

Fond memories of the smell of the freshly cut tree, hundreds of colorful, twinkling lights, and of course, presents in all shapes and sizes. Hanging beautiful Christmas stockings was always a highlight for me. Santa would fill them with many small toys and candies. After waking my parents, I would run to the fireplace and reach for my stocking. Dumping out all the goodies put a smile on my face. The combination of toys and chocolate was unbeatable.

When I became a parent, Santa and I stuffed the stockings to the brim each year. My children and I cherished these stockings. They brought happiness to all of us.

At Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, California, my roommate and I had an idea: Why not share joy and cheer up other inmates through the gift of giving? We invited every man in our building to decorate a state-issued sock for the holidays with colorful markers we supplied. Ken and I explained that each sock would be returned to its owner on Christmas morning full of treats. The response was overwhelming. We hung dozens of beautifully decorated, empty socks on our wall. It was an astonishing display of artwork. Even the guards from other buildings came to see the spectacle.

Then, on Christmas Eve, Ken and I went to work. We had an assortment of things from our holiday care packages sent through a third-party vendor, and ones that we had purchased at the canteen. Shower shoes are an essential item in prison. Those went into the socks first, followed by a soda, a bag of nuts, a Rice Krispy Treat, a pastry, hard candy and a variety of dark and milk chocolates. That’s all we could jam in!

Filling the socks delighted us. We stayed up late, laughing and telling childhood stories. Ken had asked the guard who was working Christmas morning if we could pass out the bulging and overflowing, colorful socks. Sure enough, our door opened bright and early and off we went on a mission of spreading joy to our neighbors and friends.

We started at one end of the building where the guard opened the first door from his secure tower. We were greeted by smiles and, in some cases, hugs. The words “Merry Christmas” echoed on the tier. After about an hour, Ken and I returned to our room, tired but content. We heard soda cans “pop” all morning.

We performed the annual event for four years before I was transferred to Corcoran State Prison. This simple act of love had a deep effect on these restless and homesick men. Our acts of kindness and compassion may have helped others, but they also changed our lives forever.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Lawrence May is a writer incarcerated in California. He has traveled to nearly 40 countries outside the U.S. and has written more than 50 stories, as well as his autobiography.