As the prisoners filed by on their way to the evening meal, several sprayed lighter fluid on it until it was thoroughly soaked. Then one threw a lit matchbook on it.
A quick blaze and plume of smoke shot 30 or 40 feet into the air. Then alarms went off and the cheering prisoners were herded back to their cells. Most of us missed supper that night. That was a memorable Christmas day at California State Prison.
Each Christmas I was locked up way back in last century, the warden would get on the loudspeaker to proclaim that officials would tolerate no floods, fires, or demonstrations. Of course his announcement was the signal to light mattresses and toilet paper on fire, and plug toilets and flood the cell block.
From this backdrop, even though I’ve been free for years, it took a while for Christmas to take on meaning for me. That’s because I’d been steeped in the toxic environment of prison where societal norms were looked upon with scorn and disdain by those who lived outside the boundaries.
Today, though, Christmas means having gratitude - and bringing joy to my loved ones and those less fortunate.
And I owe it all to getting sober 22 years ago and rejoining the human race.