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Message from Jason (December 2014)

Dear friends,

I hope this note finds you as well as possible. I know the holiday season can be a really rough time inside the walls. I know that too often family and friends do not reach out with cards or visits, making this time particularly tough. I hope that the holiday cards from volunteers throughout the US and Canada (and even Sweden) were able to bring a moment of distractions.

As you will read elsewhere in the newspaper, we had over 150 holiday card writing parties this year. That was more than we could have ever even wished for. I hope a card came to you and you could know that you are cared for and not forgotten. I do not think that everyone receiving this paper knows that I am an ordained minister in the Unitarian Universalist tradition. I must say that all the winter holidays inspire me. The celebration of the returning of light for Solstice, the miracle of Hanukkah, the birth story of Jesus, and the Black radical tradition of Kwanzaa, all of them have important liberation stories to them. I know not everyone celebrates any of these holidays, and I hope you will bear with me as I use the next few paragraphs to reflect on them (or just skip reading this part, no judgment ☺ )

Our family members in prison who honor the winter solstice are often denied the ability to celebrate their traditions. Corrections officials regularly ignore the freedom of religious practice by Indigenous people, Wiccans, and Pagans. There is, however, great beauty in the Winter Solstice. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere this is the returning of the sun after having the days be so very short. I know that inside prison walls this “returning of the sun” can be hard to feel when surrounded by concrete and steel. In our ongoing work to abolish prisons and end the current suffering inside, the returning of the sun can be a metaphor, a story to remind us to have hope. Even though the prison system constantly crushes connection to the sun, to life giving energy, we keep going with the hope that the sun will return.

The miracle of Hanukkah gives us a similar kind of hope. After a great battle the Maccabees noticed there was only enough oil for one night of light, and yet the light lasted for eight nights. Despite knowing and noticing hopelessness, the miraculous becomes possible. As a skeptic of God’s intervention in human events I also like to think that the community around the Temple all banded together to share drops of their own oil and kept the temple light burning. When we act as a community we can have incredible power to shine light.

The birth of Jesus is also a story of hope, the hope of new possibilities made known with the arrival of any new child. One of my favorite parts about this story comes before the actual birth of Jesus. Too often the central role of Mary, the mother giving birth, is lost in the Christmas story. One of the greatest Bible passages is Luke 1:46-55, Mary’s Song celebrating the coming of her child. One of the lines is especially important for us as we think about our shared work rooted in hope, “God has brought the mighty down from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things and sent away the rich with empty arms.” As we find hope in our efforts we know that the mighty (corrections officials) can be taken down from their thrones.

Lastly, but far from least, is the celebration of Kwanzaa, again a festival involving light. This six day holiday was created in the 1960s to keep a connection to Black Power and Pan-Africanism. Prisoners in the 1970s anti-prison movement used Kwanzaa holiday to organize and mobilize prisoner resistance. In Massachusetts, my home state, the denial of a long-planned Kwanzaa celebration and a 2 1⁄2 month lock down in 1973 sparked a general work strike by prisoners organized by the National Prisoners Reform Association (NPRA) and Black African Nations Towards Unity (BANTU). Much of this history is told in a book titled When the Prisoners Ran Walpole. My point with the letter this month is to remind us all that there is power in our stories, that there is strength in hope, and that when we fight, we can win. We do all of our work knowing that once there were no prisons, that day will come again.

In loving solidarity,
Jason

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