What Are Holidays Like in Prison?

By Natalie

Updated: April 15, 2020

I’ve never been a big holiday person, so when I was sentenced to 15 years in prison for a first-time marijuana offense, I was surprised to find out just how much being incarcerated on a holiday affected me.

I realized on the inside that when I was in the real world, holidays were pretty great. I usually got to take the day off with pay, or if I was working a job that required me to work on a holiday I would get holiday pay. Either way, holidays were great!

In addition to the money, holidays are the perfect opportunity to spend time with your family and/or travel somewhere for a mini vacation. Long three or four-day weekends are something I really loved looking forward to – and experiencing – so I realized in prison that I was more of a holiday person than I thought.

All of that leads us to today’s blog post: What are holidays like in prison?

In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:

  • Do inmates get special meals on holidays?
  • Can you visit an inmate on a holiday?
  • Are there any special inmate activities during the holidays?
  • How do inmates handle being locked up on a holiday?

Do inmates get special meals on holidays?

Believe it or not – based on my experience – inmates do get special meals on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and 4th of July. Usually, a local charity will donate food so inmates can get a taste of a traditional holiday meal. 

On Thanksgiving, we got a tray full of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, a roll, a salad, and a dessert. In fact, we got so much food on Thanksgiving that we needed an extra bowl for the dessert because it wouldn’t fit on the tray.

Surprisingly, the Thanksgiving meal was pretty good, and it was the one meal I looked forward to all year long. However, there were years where I had to wait a long time to get the food in my belly.

Let me explain, the chow hall runs on a schedule that rotates on a daily basis. It is divided up by housing unit and wing, so some days you would be one of the first inmates to eat and on other days you would be the last.

On a normal day, a percentage of inmates would go to the chow hall for any given meal, and the calls to go eat would happen rather quickly, no matter if you were at the front or the back of the line. However, on a holiday, everyone in camp went to eat. So, if you were the last housing unit and wing on the schedule, you could end up waiting nearly two hours to eat

On Christmas, we also got a special meal that was pretty close to the Thanksgiving dinner, but it usually had ham instead of turkey. On the 4th of July, we would get cheeseburgers, baked beans, potato salad, and ice cream. We couldn’t get to the chow hall fast enough.

Can you visit an inmate on a holiday?

Most prisons do have their visiting room open on major federal and state holidays, like Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Day, and the 4th of July. However, the schedule does vary based on the facility. At Prison Insight, we do our best to give you the most up-to-date visiting schedules for each state and federal prison. So, if you have holiday visiting questions about a specific prison, look them up in our directory.

The visiting rooms are usually extremely crowded on a holiday, so be prepared to show up early to get a spot.

Also, in addition to the traditional state and federal holidays, many prisons have special visiting hours on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. 

Are there any special inmate activities during the holidays?

Again, the answer to this question is based on the facility. Some prisons have performing arts programs that will put on a concert or play for the inmates during the holidays. Others might have extended recreation hours because there is no school on holidays.

For inmates who have children, there are special programs at Christmas that allow the inmates to make their kids gifts or sign up with a charity that will provide gifts for the kids. 

How do inmates handle being locked up during the holidays?

Despite the special meals and visits, the holidays can be a difficult time emotionally for prisoners. Some people just like to hide under the covers on their bunk and sleep the day away because it is too much to handle.

There are usually religious services during the holidays that can help inmates cope with the trauma of being away from their loved ones. There are also extremely long phone lines on the major holidays because everyone wants to talk to their family to make the day a little bit easier by easing the pain and loneliness. 

Do you think you could handle being in prison on a major holiday? Let us know in the comments below.


What are holidays like in prison?

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