Over the years I have been blessed with having two Christmases every year; one with my mother's side of the family and the other with the Pitre's, my dad's side.
Being raised by my charitable grandmother Mama Nechie my entire life, Christmas was every time she went to any store. Whether it was a grocery store, expensive department store or cheap thrift store, Mama Nechie would always bring me back something nice. Now that I think about it, that’s probably why I did not receive many gifts on Christmas.
Christmas at home with her was just another regular day. No large Christmas tree, no wrapped presents under it and no Santa Claus decorations or Christmas lights. Mama Nechie is a firm believer, but my guess is that maybe in her aging years she lacked the motivation to still celebrate the holiday in that fashion. For dinner, Mama Nechie would sometimes order a party size of fried chicken, potato salad and other side dishes from our local grocery store, or some barbecue ribs from Costco for the few family members that would come over to visit.
Christmas with the Pitre's was the opposite. Pitre tradition is that the family gathers together on the night of Christmas Eve at my Aunt Cecelia's house in Riverside, Calif., and celebrate into the early morning. The exterior of the house would be beautifully decked with Christmas lights and ornaments. The Christmas tree in the living room was equipped with tons of gifts, a handful with my name. Christmas with the Pitre's is truly a wonderful time.
Back in 2009, a robbery accusation earned me the "unfortunate fortune" of spending one Christmas decking the halls inside of a juvenile hall. This was not your typical juvenile hall either. I was housed in what was called "the compound," which is basically a jail within a jail. This is where every juvenile being tried as an adult in Los Angeles County was detained while fighting their cases.
We were considered high-risk offenders and were always segregated from the general population of minors in regular units. Every time we exited the front gate of the compound for any reason, under any circumstances, we were chained, handcuffed and shackled at the waist, wrists and ankles.
Every time I stepped out from the front gates of the compound, the minors in regular units would stare at me in fear and sorrow. The fear came from knowing that we were probably tough (based on our high level of charges) and the sorrow they felt was from knowing that most of us would be going to prison for a very long stint. It was a sad thing but it was the truth.
I was released in late 2010, but being locked up during that time in my life was a valuable lesson. I say it was an unfortunate fortune because although my freedom was deprived at a time I would have been with my families having fun and enjoying life, I realized how things can go from wonderful to tragic in an instance no matter who you are.
I was reminded of how many people there are who spend Christmas and the holidays every year lonely and confined within four walls, away from society, with nothing. These acknowledgements caused me to cherish my freedom more than ever. This lesson enabled me to love my family strongly, knowing that I could have been away from them for the rest of my life.
That thought added horsepower to my motivational engine. I wanted to live positive and I wanted to help those who have been in that position not to return to it.
This year once again I’ll be spending Christmas with both families, instead of without them in a lock-up facility. I am grateful for having a family to spend Christmas with, especially since there are so many people who do not. It helps me appreciate life a little bit more.