In the six and a half holiday seasons I spent in prison, inmates weren’t allowed to decorate. No one propped up a tree or dangled lights. Instead, the halls were decked with the folly of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
If it wasn’t on the news, then a guard made mention of how lucky it was that I and the other women at York CI in Connecticut weren’t incarcerated in Arizona, where a real Scrooge – Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio – was in charge .
On my last Thanksgiving in the Connecticut facility, I heard that Sheriff Joe served inmates only two meals a day and bragged about spending only 68 cents on inmates’ Thanksgiving dinner of turkey soy casserole.
No Scrooge should go through Christmas without the requisite tête-à-têtes with Charles Dickens’ three ghosts from A Christmas Carol: Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. Since you’re always looking to maximize efficiency, Sheriff Joe, I will be all three .
In Christmases past, you, Sheriff Arpaio, blasted Christmas music to disturb the inmates — along with Newt Gingrich’s audio lectures
You also took away cable TV until a federal court order directed you to reconnect it . Prisoners had access only to The Disney Channel and The Weather Channel. When asked why The Weather Channel, you replied, “So they will know how hot it’s gonna be while they are working on my chain gangs.”
As the Ghost of Christmas Past told Ebenezer: “That they are what they are, do not blame me!” These decisions to deny inmates acknowledgement of their humanity are on you.
Sheriff Arpaio, your Christmas Present isn’t going well. You’re a lame duck now that you were voted out last month. People are tired of your name-brand abuse of prisoners.
When confronted with the despair of children about to die, the literary Scrooge asked The Ghost of Christmas Present: “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” to care for people down on their luck.
There are prisons in Arizona because you immortalized them as dumping grounds for the state’s indigent people, erecting tent cities to house them. And workhouses? Sort of. Your inmates work on outdoor chain gangs that evoke images of slavery. Check your Christmas Past to see the pink shirts you made inmates wear on the work detail.
Your Christmas Yet to Come is bleak, too, sheriff . Your pending criminal trial should have already started but it’s been delayed because the federal government is likely to tack on more charges. You may be headed toward corrections yourself — at 84 years of age.
Of course, you will land in a cushy federal prison and not the conditions you imposed on prisoners, but a fall is a fall.
“Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!” begged Dickens’ main character of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. I’ll oblige you as well.
The holidays are a poignant time for prisoners . An inmate has the opportunity to be grateful, even for the conditions she doesn’t like and a chance to make peace, with herself and with others, before she turns a calendar page toward hope and change, like everyone else . In this potential, inmates aren’t that alone.
You can repent, Sheriff Arpaio. Even lame ducks can do a few things, particularly if their successor will keep those programs in place, as incoming sheriff Paul Penzone has claimed he will. Start his reforms early as a Christmas gifts for the inmates who suffered during your tenure. Alter your life by publicly apologizing for the way you treated a group of people you may join. Walk and quack like a person with some human concern. The inmates in Arizona are more than names on a headcount list. Like me when I was an inmate, they matter.
May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, every one!