For relatives of the incarcerated, holidays are marked by grief and loss

For relatives of the incarcerated, holidays are marked by grief and loss

The Boston Globe
December 23, 2021
By Julia Carlin

Shanita Jefferson filled a Christmas package with 75 family photographs, some handwritten letters, and a drawing from her daughter. She sent it to her mother at MCI-Framingham Correctional Facility.

Jefferson, of Weymouth, said she hates knowing that her mother, who has been in prison for 31 years, will receive only photocopies of the letters — and pictures void of her smell and the lasting imprint of her touch.

On Jefferson’s third birthday, her mother was convicted and sentenced to life without parole. On every holiday since, Jefferson recognizes the time that has elapsed. Her “soul aches” as she hears her mother’s voice age through the phone.

The grief that Jefferson feels over the holidays is shared by thousands of families across the state with incarcerated relatives, who grapple with the acknowledgment of their loved ones’ mistakes and wrongdoings but nonetheless long to be with them.

Many families said it’s particularly hard for their children and grandchildren to understand why their family can’t be together. Jefferson has an 8-year-old daughter of her own.

“It’s a really hard time for folks who are incarcerated and their families,” said Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, which works to protect the civil rights of prisoners. They experience a heightened level of isolation during the holidays, she said, which can break people down and “disconnect people from the support systems they need to survive.”

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