As I walked by a bookcase in the dayroom, I casually set down a mini-Butterfinger on top of it and walked away. Attached to the Butterfinger was a Post-It note with the words, “Free Butterfinger, Merry Christmas.”
Looking around the day room, I saw that there were only a few guys out there, and none of them were paying attention to me.
Good, I thought. Nobody saw me.
It was about 6:45AM on Christmas morning, right after they had cleared count and opened the dayroom. Because my block was 8th in the eating order that month, I knew it would be a while until they called us to breakfast, so I went to the weight machine and began my workout.
I had just engaged in my new Christmas tradition, leaving candy on the bookcase for anyone in the block who wanted it. You see, the top of the bookcase was the communal exchange area in the block. Whenever you were done with something but thought somebody else might want it, instead of throwing it away, you would leave it on the bookcase. Somebody else who wanted it would come along and take it. For example, whenever I was done with my Men’s Health magazine, I would leave it on the bookcase because I knew others would want to read it.
Throughout the day, I would set a new Butterfinger on the bookcase after the previous one had been taken. This new tradition, which I would also do on Thanksgiving, was inspired by Tone’s birthday party where he had shared his food with everybody in the block who wanted some. The most impressive aspect of that event was the sharing with strangers. At first I had trouble figuring out an acceptable way to share with strangers, for giving and accepting gifts in prison is tricky. Many guys are weary of receiving gifts from strangers, and rightfully so. Because there can be strings attached to gifts, many guys didn’t want to feel indebted. That’s why I settled on the bookcase method. I could provide these gifts to strangers without any socially awkward moments.
After finishing a set of pull-ups, I noticed somebody approaching the bookcase, and I discreetly watched. It was Mr. Mead–an older black gentleman that had been locked up for 45 years. He was a fellow parole inmate that had been denied release multiple times. Unfortunately, he had the type of case–the death of a cop–that the parole board was least likely to ever provide a release to.
Mr. Mead picked up the Butterfinger, read the attached Post-It note, smiled, and walked away with it.
I smiled too, glad to witness how that small gift brought joy to somebody.
At higher security levels, I had become a little more stingy because many mooches would take advantage of your generosity–another damaging effect of imprisonment. I was just now rediscovering the joy of giving. In fact, this giving had become the favorite part of my holiday–even more than the “special” meal served at the chow hall.
This gift give-away was a deliberate part of my effort to become a better person, to go from being selfish to selfless. I found that the key was to go from a focus on the “me” to the “we”. I had already extended the “we” to my friends and family; I was now working on extending that “we” to everybody.
After finishing another set of pull ups, I went back to my cube to retrieve another Butterfinger.
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I wish all of you a great Christmas with love, peace and happiness. Happy holidays! —Christopher—