Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work


Work to be done.
Yesterday, Jaime and I walked over to Santiago's open market to see if we could find a pavo.  We had been to a couple of supermarkets earlier in the week, but there were no turkeys to be found.  I was thinking that perhaps turkey was not something that is sold in Spain.  But there it was, the last stall on the left at the end of the poultry row - a single raw turkey, just sitting there, waiting for an USAer to come along and claim it.  Freshly plucked, there were still traces of its feathers in the skin - yum!

Sold to us straight up, unwrapped, plopped into a plastic bag, I wrapped it in cellophane when I got home since I won't actually be cooking it until Sunday, when the family gets together for our weekly meal.  Wrapped up, it looks a little more like what I'd see at Stop and Shop, contained and domesticated, not the unwieldly thing that sat in the market stall, legs and wings splayed open, gaping cavity staring out at me.  When it comes to the holidays, we search for familiarity, something that connects us to the past, to tradition.  Obviously, the last Thursday of November feels different over here, but having a raw bird in the refrigerator helps.

You may be wondering how the women at York are celebrating the holiday.  In the food narratives that I collected from formerly incarcerated women, Thanksgiving is described as a special time - a big table, turkey and pumpkin pie.

P24:  I can say, for instance, Christmas, around Christmas-time, Thanksgiving-time, I can say that the dinner in York were decent.  You know?  It would be roast beef and turkey.  The real roast beef, the real turkey.  Um, mashed potatoes, you would get ice cream.  We used to get cups of soda.  So, yeah, the food, you know, at times, the food was good.

P13:  We had good staff.  So with the good staff, it was Thanksgiving.  You know, we can’t go home, we can’t get visits on holidays, so they figure, “Why don’t you just let them, like, throw a Thanksgiving party?”  So that’s what we did.  We all just got together and made mufongos, just regular soup and we had chips out there, snacks out there.  It’s like, you know, trying to make it a little home-y, even though we’re not home, that’s a little bit home-y.  We put, like, 4 tables together, and we made our own, like, tablecloths and stuff like that, out of sheets.

The absence of missing family is felt.

P10:  They serve some turkey on, on Turkey Day, on Thanksgiving Day.  Thanksgiving Day, yeah.  They serve turkey.  Christmas they serve chicken. They serve us a lot of turkey.  I was so full, I couldn’t even walk.  [It was]  A happy time.  Was very happy.  For me it was.  I remember my mother when I was there.  She always do the Thanksgiving for me.  She always do turkey.

Some are more appreciative than others.

P15:  Thanksgiving, they made us a beautiful meal.  They did turkey breast for like the whole, like we sliced turkey breasts for two weeks for, for everybody.  But they, you know they made real stuffing with all kinds of vegetables in it.  And most of the girls complained about that, like, “Who puts onions or pepper or whatever in their stuffing?” And it was so good, it was like someone in a restaurant would make, not, I guess, it wasn’t Stove Top…  You know what I mean?  I mean, like they, they even complained about that.  No, they fed us very well in there.  

A big meal, thanks for friends and family near and far, occasional complaints - sound familiar?