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“Doing kind things for strangers made me feel better about what we had been through.”

By Chana Marie Wynne-Swan

When my son Elijah was sixteen, he was put in a prison facility—he’s been away from home for the past three Christmases. It's the hardest time of year to be without him.

Since that first Christmas, I’ve saved all the stocking stuffers for him.

I have four other children, so even though Elijah was gone I continued to celebrate the holidays as we always had. I filled and hung up Elijah’s stocking—and since that first Christmas, I’ve saved all the stocking stuffers for him. We had our usual Christmas dinner and celebrated as a family as best we could.

The one thing that I couldn’t bring myself to do the first two years Elijah was gone was take a family Christmas picture. During the time he was away, I posted family photos for him to look through when he got out. But something about the holidays made it harder to do. I just wanted him to be in the Christmas photo. And because he wasn’t able to, I couldn’t bring myself to take it.

Having an incarcerated child was incredibly isolating. While Elijah was in prison, I asked my friends to help us send him cards during the holidays, but I didn’t get much of a response. I didn’t find a lot of empathy, even when I asked for it.

Doing kind things for strangers made me feel better about what we had been through. 

When I didn’t get the support I expected from my network, it inspired me to try to support others going through the same thing. In addition to sending cards to Elijah, I also sent personalized cards to the kids he met in prison. When my husband and I saw the impact that made, we went a step further and started sending cards to other inmates in California. Doing kind things for strangers made me feel better about what we had been through. For me, it helped to do something bigger than my pain.

This year, I plan to send cards to incarcerated people again. But I won’t need to send one to Elijah, because he’s home. 

He’s been home for two months and I still can’t believe it.

For these upcoming holidays, I’m looking forward to taking a trip with the family. This year I won’t have to feel guilty about what Elijah is missing, because he’ll be here to experience all of our holiday rituals. I can finally give him three years’ worth of stocking stuffers. We can tag him in Facebook photos from our vacation—and this year he’ll really be there. 

Incarceration Bouncing forward Children Family Juvenile detention Prison reform Supporting others Women Holidays
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