prison

Stories From Prison Inmates

This time, my pen pal and friend Thomas didn’t send me poems, but some of his thoughts and stories from prison, short descriptions of incidents he had to deal with. I will share his words here and explain more about it at the end of this post.

What Would You Sacrifice For Freedom?

Stories From Prison Inmates

I have truly been selfish throughout my life’s journey, I’ve been the cause of death and so much heartache in the name of money and a way out of a hell that was created for me,

I have told lies when the truth just felt so bitter on my tongue, I’ve sacrificed my very soul for trucks, bikes, and travel, I’ve lost love and trust by not feeling worthy of it,

Happiness was never achieved because I was never taught the basics of how. I’ve felt lost my whole life until I came to death row and set for14 hard years of the purest self reflection I’ve ever experienced.

Throughout that time I learnt that I’ve sacrificed the very things, the very chances within healthy people to prove selfishly I could handle those streets and be a good provider.

Now I sit in population around hopeless souls and jealous minded dudes after building my spirit piece by piece.

I was tested! because they say No true progress comes without test, right?

fist

I was punched in the face as hard as this dude possible could after I disagreed with how he was speaking to me. When he hit me I looked him in his eyes and I asked “Is that all?”

Yes, I know my reaction may seem weird, but throughout my life I’ve always just responded with bloodshed or even death, I’m 6’O, 266 lbs in weight, I’ve worked out heavily for moments just like this but all I could see in this dude was that he gave me his best shot with my hands down and it didn’t even move me, and within his anger he told me why he hated me because I wouldn’t back him on blacks against whites’ racial ignorance he created, nor would I leave my faith and follow him or any others.

I told him I hope you’re good and I went off to my video visit.

Pride, ego, or opinions of people who saw him hit me didn’t even bother me because for once in my life I want to sacrifice in a healthy way, which means enduring difficult moments of hatred or violence, and when the day comes and I’m finally seen by society, courts, or law makers No member of #TeamStayStrong! and  #TeamStayHealthy! will feel disappointment in me. I acknowledge wholeheartedly that they have all sacrificed time, love, and kindred energy for me to get me to these very moments of being healthy-minded enough to recognize that I’m much more than my case. Through their belief in me I started believing in myself.

despair

So I will have sacrifice and endurance to achieve our goals of freedom!

Nothing will stand in my way nor pull me to those depths of self-destructive behavior.

By Thomas Porter

For an explanation of this incident, please see my “More Info About What Would you Sacrifice for Freedom” at the end of this blog post.

Equal Conversations Please

Is it me or the voices in my mind telling me this person standing here before me likes to hear himself talk about nothing? Mind you, I am asked a question but it’s only a facade to hear his superficial ramblings about a life lived in negativities to somehow prove to me that I should, for some reason, follow him blindly,

I realize as he talks it’s building against the prelude because there’s No importance in his words or No concerns for the faces I’m making while looking at him, thinking how can I get this wasted time back?

Is this the penalty for being approachable? Penitence for my sins maybe, I can’t get a word in edge wise but I’m noticing that it’s designed this way.

When I don’t agree there are insults hidden under words like “I don’t understand why you can’t see my points”, which is about bullshit at the end of the day,

Why does it seem people only want an audience for their one man or woman show and our admission is the disregard for anything we would have to say or think, given they know it all or have been through it all somehow.

I truly feel It’s like we are only there for applause or sing their praise.

Please Humanity, Stop Just Listening To Yourselves Talk, Take Notice Of Who You Engage In Conversation With.

By Thomas Porter

Thomas Porter
https://wireofhope.com/prison-penpal-thomas-porter/

More Info on Equal Conversations Please

Thomas tries to keep to himself, but he notices that when other inmates approach him to talk, they only talk about themselves and do not listen to anything he has to say. Most of the time he has no interest in what they tell him, and he tries to wriggle out of it, but can’t always do that.

I tell him that this happens in the outside world too. You’re trying to have a conversation, but some people do not listen, they only make it about themselves.

talk too much

Example: your dog dies, and you’re heartbroken. You want to talk to someone you consider a friend or someone you feel you can talk to. You tell them, “My dog died, I miss him so much, this is so hard for me.” The response is “That reminds me when my dog died last year, I was devastated! Yesterday beautiful flowers grew on his grave, and you know, my dog used to do this and that. I … bla bla bla …”

And you sit there, listening to that person while still dealing with your own grief, but unable to express it, because everything you say or try to say is made about your “conversational” partner’s life.

Nowadays, conversations do not seem about listening anymore, but getting a word in about oneself, about me, me, me, and when you’re locked in with people like that, I guess it can be hard in the long term …

listen more

We cannot forget to listen when we have conversations.

More Info About What Would you Sacrifice for Freedom

Today, I spoke to Thomas on the phone and I asked him about the incident, if that guy really hit him. He said, yes, it really happened, and Thomas chose not to retaliate, because he has nothing to prove anymore. He feels that he isn’t like those other guys he is imprisoned with, and he doesn’t want to sacrifice what he has; in other words, lose the little he has left now.

Thomas is in Red Onion prison, in Virginia. Of the 6 people I write to, he is in the toughest place … It’s a level 6 security. When he leaves his cell in the morning, guards with K9 dogs await him.

barking dog

Because Thomas killed a police officer over 15 years ago and he was saved from death row, some people believe that he “should have gotten the needle”, that he should still get punished, day by day, even though the crime happened over 15 years ago and Thomas is now not the man he was back then. He has even expressed regret over what has happened and he has written to the victim’s family.

During those 14 years on death row he always displayed excellent behavior, and after the death penalty was abolished in Virginia, there was absolutely no need to send him to a level 6 security prison.

It has been tough, not only because he has to adapt to being in population after having lived in isolation for 14 years, but also because he finds himself among inmates who are always boasting “how tough” they are and he doesn’t want anything to do with that.

The man who punched him did so because Thomas doesn’t want to join the group of black prisoners – yep, the usual black and white race-based groups – and instead he prefers to talk to another prisoner with whom he gets along fine and who happens to be white. He was punched for speaking to the white prisoner. Another useless racist war …

When the man hit him, COs (correctional officers) stood nearby, watching the incident, and they did nothing. Thomas thinks that they were hoping he’d react to the provocation so that they would have an excuse to throw him into isolation.

Isolation (or “the hole”) is tough on anyone. It is considered an inhumane practice and it has shown that it has severe impacts on inmates’ mental health. Isolation at Red Onion prison is not only inhumane, it is hell, as you can see in the below video. This is only the trailer of the prison documentary, but it will give you a pretty good idea. I saw the full documentary, it leaves an impact.

Thomas knew that he was being tested when the guy punched him, and so he did nothing. He took the beating, a small sacrifice for the few privileges he still has. In isolation, he would have nothing, no phone calls, no contact, nothing. If he had retaliated, he could have easily won the fight, but he would have ended up losing everything. This is why he did not react and just walked off.

It’s a story that left me open-mouthed and worried about him. He told me not to worry, but I do. I can’t help myself. I know that he has been through a lot and he is strong, but the life he leads now is not much of a life. He has to stay in Red Onion for 2 years before he can get transferred to another prison, which will hopefully be a little better and have a lower level of security, since Thomas clearly presents no threat. He has shown that for 14 years, so why this harsh treatment now?

… Some people believe that he should have gotten the death penalty … after all this time … The only reason he is being treated like that is because of who the victim was, not because of what he did but who he did it to.

justice

People who have done worse have gotten off with lighter sentences. I do not mean to disrespect the victim or his family, because I can’t even imagine the pain they must have gone through when they lost him, a father and a husband. I know the pain of loss and some people never get over it but they learn to live with the pain …

Nonetheless, I think it is wrong to base a punishment on which man got killed. Although I respect the work of a policeman and I’m thankful for what they do for us I do not think that any life has more value than another’s life based on a uniform.

I also don’t think that a man should be made to suffer every single day for the rest of his life to make him pay for his past. A man should be given a chance when he clearly shows that he deserves it.

A system of repeated revenge, over and over and over again isn’t much different from the Middle Ages where punishments were based on vengeance. Even if our prison system is now more “humane” (is it, really?) and we’re no longer quartering prisoners like we did 500 years ago, we’re shaming Cesare Beccaria, the father of criminal justice, who in the 18th Century proclaimed that justice must not be based on revenge.

Cesare Beccaria
Municipal Library of Trento, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Now, in the 21st Century, our justice system is still based solely on revenge, on the destruction of a human’s mind … so, how much have we really improved …?

On the other hand, some crimes are so shocking that the perpetrators must be taken off the streets, and some people will never show any remorse. Some will re-offend, waste their chances, and still present a danger to society. That is, unfortunately, also true.

However, we cannot, must not make the mistake of generalizing the prison population. There are many who have spent time on self-reflection, who are no longer the person they used to be, who have freed themselves from abusive environments even, and those men – Thomas included – deserve a second chance in life!

If we refuse to give those chances, if we insist on destroying people day by day, week, by week, month by month, year after year in an institutionalized system of daily onslaughts on men and women’s mental health, then how can we look at ourselves in the mirror and say that we’re “just”?

 

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Comments

    1. Hi Eric,

      I saw a video about a group of volunteers who wrote to prisoners on death row and it felt like something I wanted to do. So, I researched about it and landed on Wire of Hope, a prison pen pal website, where I found Thomas’s profile and contacted him. When I first wrote to him he was still on death row but when he responded he told me that the death penalty had just been abolished in his state, and now he has life without parole.

  1. Hey Christine,

    Some very powerful stories here. It’s amazing to read and listen to prisoners and what they think about every day when they are stuck in their cells. It’s interesting when you ask “What would you sacrifice for freedom?” It reminded me of when I was thinking of what would I sacrifice for my dream. The things I was thinking of were giving up my social life for a bit. Giving up TV privileges 🙂 and giving up seeing friends as much as I was. But, when I think about what would I give up for my freedom? It’s incredible to think about.

    I will let you know what I would give up for my freedom when I have a really good think about it.

    Thank you for sharing and keep up your great and powerful work.

    All the best,

    Tom

  2. Hi Lila,

    It’s frustrating to know the life Thomas has to deal with inside the red onion, and he was correct not to fight back when someone punched him. The video attached here is something that I don’t even know exists in our society. Making me feel bad again, for justice only focuses on revenge instead of helping people reshape their behavior and lives…

    When I think about “What would you sacrifice for freedom?” the first thing that comes to mind is the options without any restrictions. For example, I could choose to surf the internet, exercise, or sit in the garden doing nothing. But inmates don’t have options…which hurts.

    Matt

    1. Hi Matt,

      True, when asked “what would you sacrifice for freedom?” we have a whole lot of options, but a prisoner does not. They have no options. The racism in that prison worries me. I know that Thomas is strong, but I can’t help worrying.

  3. Christine,

    I can attest personally that jail or prison is not a fun place to be. I’ve been there, but not nearly what Thomas is going through. I wasn’t in a maximum security place, but I was in county for 3 months. County is different from prison in that you can’t have any food in your cell. You can only eat what you’re fed for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You only get the most smallest of commissary items, tiny toothbrushes, a small plastic mug, etc.

    My room mate, I never liked the term “Cellie” had been in there for 2 years already when I arrived. She was waiting for her trial for the death of her infant son who she claimed had gotten SIDS and she didn’t know what to do when she saw he had passed, so she laid on her bed and fell asleep. Because of the time lapse between his death and the 911 call, they had stated that she had killed him. I felt very bad for her when I was there. Her entire family had disowned her, as well as her husbands family. Blaming her for the death of their child.

    I never found out what happened, but I believe she was tried and sentenced guilty and sent off to a women’s prison. I, unfortunately, lost contact with her when I moved back to Alaska.

    I will say, even today, 15 years later for myself, as a felon you are still judged, regardless of whether you’re in prison or not. It’s a life sentence, regardless of what people believe. As a felon, I am not hireable for most companies. You also have a hard time with getting housing, since for rentals, they do background checks.

    There have been movies made, where the felons are all separated and sent to live in closed off places, because they are considered a danger to society. But what’s funny, is that prior to my convictions, I was always a professional. A banker for 12 years, in Escrow for for 6 years, and a General Manager. Yet, people still judge me based on my background.

    So, whether you’re in prison or not, felons will always be judged for their past. It’s sad actually, especially when time passes and you don’t reoffend. But regardless, I did what I did, I served my time and moved on, but I’m still known as a felon, so I must be dangerous.

    It’s the life you live I suppose even once you’re out. If you get out.

    Katrina

    1. Hi Katrina,

      You can do 10 amazing things and people will not remember, but make only 1 mistake and people will never forget it, and they’ll make sure you know that they won’t forget …
      Only 3 months in county jail and you’re still judged for it, after all these years. It’s unbelievable, isn’t it? Once you’re marked as a felon, it must be hard to get a job or a new chance in life. A few weeks ago I talked about that with one of my pen pals. He’s studying pshychology and he wants to be a youth counsellor when he gets out but he knows that it will be hard to find work as a felon …

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