From Letter Writers in the Free World
I’ve had many jobs where the end of the day comes, and I just go home. My brain turns off, and I transition to home life. Working with the Prison Ministry Team is the first job I’ve had where there is a profound, long-lasting connection. Hundreds of letters come through the Boston office each week, and I read most everything. My heart is pulled in many directions when I receive messages of awe and appreciation as well as messages of injustice and despair. Mandy has an amazing vision for the Prison Ministry, and the program is growing in leaps and bounds. To hear the stories of our incarcerated members and to work with free-world volunteers willing to help out, just because it’s the right thing to do, is inspiring.
I’m on my third pen pal and I have learned from each. A prisoner can find supportive contact from someone outside of jail, maybe a more mainstream voice than they would meet in prison. The program puts a very particular human face on the abstract idea of Mass Incarceration. Writers get support from CLF to maintaining healthy boundaries and work questions we weren’t prepared for.
My first correspondence did not last long and he didn’t seem to know how to use the support of a penpal. He wrote letters that were lavish compliments or that complained he was not at fault for a variety of complaints and our correspondence fizzled.
The second wrote to reflect on why she was in prison, told me about her prison network of supportive peers, prepared for her release, and her reunion with her family. We wrote a little after her release in celebration.
My third pen pal is a young man with a great desire to educate himself and better others inside prison. I don’t need to know why he is there or if he will be released. He is trying to evolve beyond the confines of the walls he is in with as positive a direction that he can. It is a privilege if I can urge him toward his goals.
My son made several unfortunate choices including drugs, transferring illegal items, and then fleeing the country to avoid prosecution. Eventually he was extradited back to Ohio, and was fortunate in that Ohio prosecuted him and not the Federal Courts. He accepted a plea bargain for five years, less time served.
As I am his only support person, I started looking for support for my son. As a second generation UU, I called the local UU church and was referred to you. You jumped on the case and put him through the class you require. I thought it was rather funny as he is third generation, and grew up in the UU church taking all the RE classes. My son, on the other hand, told me he learned more about the UU church and was glad to have done the course.
I believe he is becoming a man, but needs direction on moral and ethical decision making, and I hope your correspondence will help him deal with the trials and fears of prison while still growing as a person.
I don’t know if he has a UU connection with you as yet since the Ohio prison system has moved him so often. He is finally at his parent prison, NCCI in Marion, Ohio. He will soon be moved into a minimum security honor dorm and I can finally breathe a sigh of relief. I know that having the connection with your prison ministry means a lot to him. The Chaplain at the final prison even told Owen that he has had UU’s pass through before. So I want to thank you for your concern, help and contact with my son. It means the world to me and Owen.
Just wanted you to know how meaningful my correspondence with Mark is. I am very grateful indeed for this opportunity. We are building a very nice friendship and I have adopted him as my honorary nephew, so I am getting letters to “Aunt Amanda,” which is very sweet.
I am not an activist (I get overcome by rage and am useless), but in these difficult times I am just making Mark my ministry, which feels much better than calling senators’ full voice mail boxes…
Such great work you and CLF are doing!! Thank you so very much.
From Letter Writers in Prison
My life is filled with much sorrow. Sorrow over what I went through as a child. sorrow over the choices I made in life. Sorrow that one of my choices resulted in a man losing his life. Sorrow for the loneliness I live with daily in prison. (edited)
But there is joy as well.
The Joy of a wonderful friend Amanda, who writes me through the pen pal program. The joy of finding a home church who accepts me for who I am, weird beliefs and all. The joy if self discovery, realizing that contrary to the lies told to me as a child—I am Worthy of Love.