The following article originally appeared in the Fall 2012 edition of Inside Journal®, a quarterly newspaper printed and distributed by Prison Fellowship® to correctional facilities across the country.

How to Brighten the Holidays Behind Bars

By Rev. Keith Smith

Spending the holidays in prison can be downright miserable, and Christmas can be the worst of all. Most of us, if granted one wish on Christmas Day, would simply want to be with our loved ones enjoying a meal, giving and receiving gifts, and having a fun time together. For the vast majority of incarcerated men and women, though, that is not going to happen this year. So, what can we do to brighten our days during the Advent season?


First, we can remember “the reason for the season.” The time of Advent (the four weeks before Christmas) is a time to think about what Christmas truly means and what we are actually celebrating.

Although many people associate Christmas with Santa Claus, turkey dinners, and expensive gifts, Christmas is really about celebrating the birth of Jesus, the Son of God who came to earth and lived among us. And we are also celebrating the expectation that this Jesus who was born in Bethlehem will someday come again. He is the greatest gift we could ever receive!

The Gospel of John says that “the light (Jesus) came into the darkness of the world, and the darkness will never put the light out” (1:5). Prisons can be dark places, not because the lights are bad, but because so much misery, loneliness, and sin has been gathered into one place.

JOHN 1:9-12

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

But prison life, as dark as it can sometimes be, can never put out God’s light that comes in Jesus Christ. This light shines wherever you are, even in the darkest prison. Now that is really something to celebrate!


We give gifts at Christmas as tokens of God’s great gift of Jesus Christ to us. If you think that Christmas gifts are about how big something is, or how much something cost, you might have it all wrong. A gift is only as valuable as the amount of love with which it has been given. A hand-drawn Christmas card from my child might be better than a Rolex watch. The baby Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem was a tiny gift, completely unnoticed by some, but it came with more love than the world has ever known. And what an impact that gift has had! Jesus’ coming has influenced the entire course of history and brought hope into millions of lives.

It’s pretty hard to give Christmas gifts to our loved ones while we’re in prison. But there is a gift you can give that requires no money and doesn’t have to make its way through the mail room. It doesn’t cost anything to mail and it’s faster than FedEx. It is the gift of prayer.

You can give a wonderful and precious gift to your children, or your family, or those around you simply by remembering them by name each day during Advent as you say your prayers to God.


To give the gift of prayer this Christmas start on Thanksgiving Day, thanking God for the important people in your life. Continue to pray for some other person (your children, nieces, nephews) each day until Christmas Day. In doing so, you will have given a gift to someone else that no amount of money could ever buy. Remember, there is no prison wall so high or so thick that prayer cannot pass right through it. Your prayers can go everywhere.

For those who haven’t been praying very much, you could use this prayer by Jesus as a model:

Our Father, who is in heaven, holy is your name. May your Kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for yours is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Please hear my prayer this day as I pray for (name). Please (say here what you wish to say), in Jesus’ name. Amen.

We all can rest assured that the God who made the heavens and the earth will hear our prayers and will make sure that your gift of prayer gets to the right place this Christmas.