I am writing to prison inmates, I am their pen pal / friend, and it has opened up a whole new world to me. It’s a world I was aware of, a world I was even victim of in the past, and yet a world I know nothing about, despite having some things in common from our youths …
Now that I am regularly writing with inmates from different prisons in the US I come to realize how fortunate I am to have freedom. I appreciate so many things so much more, and even though I already appreciated them before, now I do even more.
I am learning, about them, but also about me. Friendships are made.
What Defines us as a Person?
“My crime does not define me” – anonymous
I suppose not everyone would write to people who are viewed as the “worst of society”, but I believe that everyone – no matter what they have done – deserves a second chance.
In an episode on the Netflix show “I am a Killer” a lawyer mentioned that no one is the worst they have done in their lives. We all have done something we are deeply ashamed or even horrified by, but it doesn’t mean that we are that person. You cannot be defined by your worst action. Would you define yourself by the worst thing you have done in life?
Although, the show “I am a Killer” also includes some chilling personalities who show no remorse, there are several cases of over-convictions, and outlandish laws that can get someone on death row without having taken anyone’s life … it is an eye-opener.
A Deserved Second Chance for Everyone?
I have given people second chances and they threw those chances away and stabbed me in the back again. It happened many times.
I have met people (the majority of them women) who wanted to hurt me just for the sake of it, for some issue of insecurity they were having themselves – who knows? – and some of those women have hurt me badly, really badly … Some of those women still busy themselves with slander, for God knows what reason, but what’s the point anyway? I think that in the end they’ll only damage themselves.
My point is that so many people keep on hurting and keep on hurting others, and for what? What for? Many of those people who hurt others are often heralded for their “great works”, expertly hiding their abuse towards others; and they walk free, free to abuse whenever they feel like it.
Focus on the Future, not the Past
I am pen pal with people who have done things that are hard for me to imagine, and it is a world that makes me pause … a world that often causes me to take a walk around my property to think, just ponder things. And yet, I am glad I am writing to them, because I know I can help, and I want to help, be a friend.
I do not focus on their crime from the past, but on who they are as a person. Being a pen pal to a prisoner brings some hope into their life, a hope that should not be taken lightly.
When you start a correspondence you should be aware that you may be writing to them for years. Deciding not to write anymore may not seem like a big deal, but it is. Receiving a letter could be the highlight of the day, and taking that away can be devastating. So, when you decide to write an inmate, be ready to have that commitment. It’s best not to play with people’s feelings.
And while we get to know each other, I realize how prison has been designed to punish but not to improve or rehabilitate. I get to know them as human beings, people who have hopes and dreams, people who are repentant of what they did, people who want a new chance in life, people who spend their days locked up.
You want to complain about lockdown? These people have been in lockdown for years, even decades. Yes, many of them have done things that merited their sentences, and although I abhor violence and I always will, and although there are repeat offenders and criminals who are not sorry for what they did, there are also many who do deserve a second chance in life and who have difficulties getting that chance from society. Those are the ones I would like to focus on with this article.
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In the case of this book, “Why Miller Turned Killer“, it helps the author get the word out about his case.
Corresponding with inmates gives me a new perspective on life. Although I was already grateful for many things, I am now even more grateful than before, compared to everything that has been taken away from them.
Why Write to Inmates
I write to them, because as a society, we cannot better anyone if we do not work on bettering ourselves. We’re all human beings. I cannot compare myself to the idiotic decisions I made as a teenager, or even in my twenties. I am not that person anymore.
I write to them because I believe that no one should be judged because of foolish decisions they made in their adolescence. We all grow, and so do they. We learn, and so do they. We need support, and so do they.
I’m happy I’m doing it. I am getting to know people who have been dealt hard cards in life, who have made mistakes and bad choices, and who know they have ruined lives for others, people who know no pardon and little forgiveness from others when they re-enter society. Being their pen pal makes such a difference in their lives.
Although I want criminals of the streets just like you do, and I want to be safe just like you do, nothing is ever black and white, which is something I am discovering, now that I have access into their world. Being their pen pal, I aim to help them and be a support for them, but I am realizing how we as a society still have so much to fix …
There is so much abuse in our childhood, bullying at school, and in some cases there is even violence at home; and although it isn’t always an excuse, it is a cause. Having lived with domestic violence as a child and teenager I know how it affects you as an adult and how difficult it is to get over it and put your past behind you. An adult who comes from a painful childhood is not the adult who was raised in a loving home. It just isn’t.
Although there is no denying that we are all responsible for our choices, someone who was raised in an abusive and loveless home tends to make the wrong choices based on how he or she was raised and on what they were taught by parents who shouldn’t have been allowed to be parents in the first place.
As parents, in schools, and as a society we have such a huge responsibility, which we often fail … It doesn’t mean that taking our responsibilities towards our children is the only way to stop crimes, but it will decrease them.
A system of harsh punishment – an eye for an eye – isn’t a solution for everyone either. Rehabilitation and education would provide much better results and more hope for a successful re-integration in society.
Evil is not born, it is made.
This is something I wrote in one of my books, and this quote is very true. Most evil is created by circumstances, society, abusers; and although I do not advocate making excuses, it certainly has a lot to do with it.
The Father of Modern Criminal Law
In 1764, in his treatise of Crimes and Punishments, Cesare Beccaria (who is considered the father of modern criminal law) argued that “by legitimizing the very behavior that the law seeks to repress—killing—capital punishment is counterproductive in the moral message it conveys.” He believed that laws were made to preserve social order, not to avenge crimes.
“Men’s most superficial feelings lead them to prefer cruel laws. Nevertheless, when they are subjected to them themselves, it is in each man’s interest that they be moderate, because the fear of being injured is greater than the desire to injure.”
Having been a victim of crimes myself I used to have a black and white view of applying harsh punishments, but nothing is ever black and white, and the law makes mistakes; willful or not, it does. Justice isn’t always served, and some convictions are harsher for people with lesser crimes and end up being a slap on the wrist for people with worse crimes. How are those oversights even possible?
Although I have always been aware that justice isn’t what it’s supposed to be, my eyes are being opened now much more than before. Even for a victim, justice doesn’t always do its work and often causes unnecessary suffering.
Being a pen pal to an inmate brings a lot of good, to them and also to you. When I started this, I did it for the sole reason to be there for them, to be a friend, someone to talk to; and as time went by I discovered that it is also doing a lot of good to me. In our correspondence we get to know and like each other, we see each other as humans who find themselves in different circumstances and who try to make the best of it.
If you’d like to know more or write to an inmate, these two here below are some good websites where you can become a pen pal.