“The biggest cause of evil in prison is loneliness.” -current prison inmate
(PORTLAND, Ore.) – Let’s face it, snail mail is archaic by most people’s standards.
The cumbersome chore of writing a letter, addressing the envelope, affixing proper postage, and putting it in the mail box seems a bit ridiculous in the age of electronic mail and instant messaging.
However, for a portion of the American population, the US postal service is still their primary source of communication. They are the forgotten victims of the war on drugs, those serving time in the prison system for a plant.
Who are these forgotten victims? They are dispensary owners, growers, and caregivers. They are patients, possessors and consumers of a life giving medicine. They are mothers, fathers, and children. Many are even grandparents.
There are countless individuals, who have not harmed anyone, rotting in prison and away from loved ones.
Unfortunately, family and friends may find it difficult to maintain relationships with their loved ones for an array of reasons. Sometimes family members are angry at the inmate for committing a crime. Often, people who are incarcerated have little to talk about or tend to be gloomy, making communication emotionally draining.
The average person, who has never experienced being locked up, is unable to comprehend the degree to which people in prison count on mail call. The entire family suffers when a loved one is incarcerated causing a strain on communication.
The first amendment right to freedom of speech is, in essence, the only constitutional right an inmate has left. Providing an avenue for a fellow human being to exercise this freedom is rewarding.
“Free speech in the prison context is also important since it is the only first-hand account we have as to how the penal system is run. Communication also plays a vital role in an inmate’s access to the courts and his relations with counsel.” (Holtz, 2002, p. 2)
Ordinarily, removal of communication is used as a form of punishment, but all prisons are required by law to provide the inmates with access to the U.S. Postal system even during punishment periods where email communication and visits are disallowed.
Writing to an inmate gives them a link that sometimes is the only one they have. Your letter may be the only kind hearted human contact the person in prison receives.
Besides having a direct impact on the inmate’s life, communities will benefit as well for the reason that the prisoners’ chances of successful reentry into society are improved when a connection to the outside world is maintained.
“Several studies suggest the prisoner’s mental health is dependent on his contact with the outside world” (Hairston, 1991, p. 93-4).
Also, the more they know about what is going on in the “real world” the easier it is to fit in with those who have not been in a black hole of the penal system.
The system should have an emphasis on maximizing contact with the outside world, both to minimize the division between the norms of incarceration and those of the free world, and to discourage dysfunctional withdrawal from society that is difficult to reverse upon release (Hany, 2002, p. 17).
One prisoner wrote, “The biggest cause of evil in prison is loneliness.”
If we are not the ones who share their stories, if we are not willing to be the voices of war than who will?
The question most often asked is, ‘What should I write about?’ It is often difficult to strike up a conversation with a virtual stranger.
Many prisoners enjoy hearing the day-to-day things that go on such as at your work, with your kids, and community.
Current events and newspaper clippings are outstanding ways to start a conversation and provide a link to the outside world. The internet is a first-rate resource for pen pal games and topics.
One favorite is to cut out a picture from a magazine and the recipient returns it with a silly caption. Word searches and crossword puzzles can also be adapted for pen pal fun.
The moments one might consider mundane in the outside world of bring color and hope into the imagination of your prisoner pen pal. However, there is a healthy list of things you are not able to send a prisoner. They are not able to receive gifts. money, stamps, stickers, and the like.
Sometimes mail that appears to follow all the rules still gets ‘returned to sender’ from the institution. All mail is subject to be opened and reviewed.
Ready to start writing? How do you locate your new pen pal?
Freedom Grow is one of several organizations that facilitate a pen-pal program for prisoners. However, Freedom Grow specializes in cannabis prisoners and can provide personal one on one assistance through the process.
They keep up with the latest rules and policies regarding the prisoner mail system and can connect you with other pen-pals and advocates who can share their experiences as a pen-pal.
Freedom Grow also maintains a list of over 50 people in prison for nonviolent cannabis convictions that are needing support and more than anything, a friend. You may contact Freedom Grow at www.freedomgrowforever.org.
- Hairston, C.F. (1991). Family ties during imprisonment: Important to whom and for what? Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 18, pp. 87-104.
- Holtz, T. A. (2002). Reaching out from behind bars: The constitutionality of laws barring prisoners from the internet. Brooklyn Law School. Brooklyn Law Review. (Spring, 2002).
- Haney, C. (2001). The Psychological impact of incarceration: Implications for post-prison adjustment. Presented at U.S. Health and Human Services, The Urban Institute, “From Prison to Home” Conference, January 30-31, 2002. Retrieved from: aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/prison2home02/haney.pdf
Mindi Hall, Writer is Co-founder at Voices Of The Cannabis War, Volunteer at Freedom Grow and Volunteer at CAN-DO Foundation – Justice Through Clemency. She has been a KBOO Community Radio Volunteer and Cchi2016 RADIO, Voices Of The Cannabis War Show. You can reach Mindi Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org.