Pastels and Pencils: Inside the Prisoners’ Holiday Cards Drive

Pastels and Pencils: Inside the Prisoners’ Holiday Cards Drive

For the eighth year, prison inmates will receive handmade holiday cards from strangers on the outside.

Next to me, Amir* drew a beautiful green line on the front of the card. “Fuck,” he says. The line was intended to be the stem of a pōhutukawa plant, but it did not leave enough space for the brush to draw flowers. He stares at the card for a while, before deciding it will be a rainbow instead.

About 20 people gather around compact tables in the Gribblehirst Community Hub, sharing trays of pastels, coloring pencils and a can of hairspray (if you know you know). On pieces of notebook paper scattered around the tables are lists of first names: Patrick, Terry, Samuel. As you write the cards, names are crossed out.

Inside many cards there will be a line like… “I want you to know that there are people out there who care about you and are thinking of you today.” Patrick, Terry, Samuel and the others will be in prison when they receive their cards.

This workshop is one of many being held this week around moto. It is the eighth year of the Hijra Holiday card driveoperated annually by Prisoner Correspondence Network (PCN), which in itself is an initiative of People Against Prisons Aotearoa.

Supplies provided by PCN.

t lamos, Co-ordinator of the holiday card drive and A lecturer in criminology at Victoria University says the card drive is the highlight of their year. “It’s a cup-filled experience,” they say. “I feel very lucky to be a part of it.”

For four years, Lamos has been at the center of organizing the campaign, but they have been involved since its inception in 2016. They recall that in the first year there were about 10 prisoners who signed up for the cards, and each got a couple. This year, the PCN is expected to be sent About 2000 cards for 350 people. “Everyone will receive an entire envelope full of cards, light, joy and cheer, which is just a wonderful gift to give people.

The more the merrier, but as the joy grows, so does the cost. As one volunteer noted, “We smell an oily rag.” To cover the costs of renting the place, materials, a few kayaks, envelopes and postage, the cost of these fumes should come to about $6,000 this year. To raise funds, PCN took action Small pageWhich is quickly approaching its goal.

Unfortunately for multimedia artists, cards containing glue will not reach the prisoners. However, some of the cards are “truly incredible little pieces of art.” Lamos has advice for those who are not too confident in their drawing abilities – Christmas trees are easy to draw, and your drawings don’t have to be great. “I’m not the best artist,” they laugh. “But I know that the thought, the feeling, the expression of solidarity and love, no matter what, is what matters.”

Around the tables, a few green triangles are stacked on the fronts of the cards, then topped with stars and interspersed with ornaments. There’s also Santa Claus, reindeer and scenery. I find it difficult to choose things to draw. There are enough Christmas trees out there, I didn’t want to paint something that would remind anyone of the things they lack while in prison. I decide on the theme of nature. First, the pōhutukawa was more carefully planned than that A prince with a bee buzzing on the back of the card; Kawakawa leaf with corresponding caterpillar; The mysterious branch of the bonga tree, which is drawn entirely on the back if very abstract; And finally, because at this point I was feeling confident in my drawing abilities, the lobster (it looked festive).

A person who usually makes cards via collage is trying to draw.

Opposite me, Ali, who doesn’t really want to draw, writes inside the cards of Josh, who can’t think of what to write (linked). On my right side, Amy was quietly writing letters on paper already decorated with shells and swirls of speckled sand. All we know about the prisoners are their first names, and I’m surprised she found so much to say. Breaking the white silence of my first card feels awkward, but by my fourth card I can barely cope with it and forget to worry about feeling down. A PCN volunteer encourages us to write from ourselves, rather than generic letters. The Rainbow Prince’s holiday greeting card has spread to all four corners. I think he might be avoiding writing because I pulled out all my papers by the time he finished one. For the most part, everyone is calmly focused.

For people who can’t attend card making events in person, there is also the option of writing a card through electronic gate. Messages will be printed by volunteers and placed in envelopes between handmade cards.

Card making is not just limited to prisoners. “For people on the outside, it’s an opportunity to think about what it would be like to be in a cell on Christmas Day, what it would feel like to be completely separated from family, and your ability to have a meaningful celebration of the new day,” Lamos says. “All things that he considers “Many of us take it for granted, every year.”

At 8:30 p.m., when the event was scheduled to end, people took a break for Kai. Over pasta salad, lentils and guacamole, the conversation shifted from transferring people into the prison system, to whether prisons are the largest mental health facility in the country, and concerns about what the next government might mean for prisoners and the vulnerable people who can. You become theirs easily. It was raining outside, but soon we would be home to loved ones, heat pumps, and the disruption of daily life in which we often don’t think about those behind bars. Making the cards seemed like a small, kind gesture in the face of huge systemic problems.

PCN knows the cards are appreciated, because people have told them so. Some thank you letters from inmates who received last year’s cards have been scanned and uploaded to their files website And Instagram. “I felt appreciated, first choice,” Troy wrote. “Christmas can be a challenge, and this year it was for me. The birds of loneliness were building their nests inside me, but when I received some cards with my name on them, I truly felt the spirits,” Alan wrote. “What you do is greatly appreciated by those of us Who cannot be with our loved ones” – (Unsigned). “This is the first greeting card in the last 4 years of imprisonment. So I kept it as a valuable gift” – (unsigned).

“Those responses every year move me,” he says. Lamos “They’re so beautiful, so poignant. It speaks to how much something as simple as writing a Christmas card can have – it can have such a huge impact on someone’s life at a time when they sometimes feel at their worst.”

Letters from prisoners after the 2022 holiday card campaign.

Card making and writing workshops this weekend


Ellen Melville Center: Saturday, December 2, anytime between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m

New Lane Library: Saturday, December 2, anytime between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m


University of Canterbury: Saturday, December 2, anytime between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m


the central Library: Sunday, December 3, anytime between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m

Nearly 100 cards were made at Tuesday evening’s session.

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