) He worshipped nineties underground rock and had played bass and guitar for “beer party punk bands” in past days. ” I wrote, “I am so impressed with all you are doing!” I thought: “What good will any of it do? You’re dying. So many times counselors would say ‘I understand. ” In Spain, it’s thirteen. “We have to be part of the work being done. Excerpted from Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better by Maya Schenwar, published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers. They fought, he left—but he continued coming around at night for a couple of weeks, and Sable, drunk and lonely, suppressed her major qualms. ” At this point, I’m absorbed and pained; I feel for my new pen pal. ” From there, she says, her judgment slid downhill prison pen pals dating. I love you Mom…. At other times, a prisoner will contribute a vital bit of information that proves unavailable anywhere else. But in this country, which locks up more than 2. A couple of newspaper snippets disclose that at twenty-three she was convicted of “statutory assault”—having a “sexual relationship” with a “known minor male” over the course of a couple of months, as evidenced by text messages exchanged between the two prison pen pals dating. Prison is built on a logic of isolation and disconnection. Receiving letters during mail call can serve as a function that resembles the other definition of “mail”: a protective shield against potential violence. I tried to send him copies of Punk Planet; they didn’t get through inspection. ” The Internet delivered the news: My friend had been executed in 2011. The medium of letters lends time to process words and contemplate responses.

” The pen-pal journey is certainly not the endgame; it’s the beginning game. Perhaps I shouldn’t have broached the topic in the first place. Often, though, the “use” of pen-palship is not in the particulars of what is being communicated, but in the act of communicating. The kids’ father, Derrick, was in prison, and Sable, overwhelmed (she says she’d been “codependent” on Derrick), began to drink, use drugs heavily, and “sleep around with whoever. And, she writes, her “separation” extends beyond contact with her kids, and even beyond the limits of the law. I love you. The “use” of pen-palship has made itself visible in small and large ways over the course of these loosely threaded friendships. My string of questions began wearing itself ragged. Although I want to help others and show my children that a mistake does not define you. LIKE US ON FACEBOOK. Goodbye, everyone. ” I avoided the mailbox, falling toward a selfish, gutless conclusion: I didn’t want to watch Steven die. (He was arrested at 21. ” Letters, calls and visits from her children have been banned until recently, she writes: “My greatest challenge was fighting for the children. His group Black and Pink focuses on helping prisoners connect directly with pen pals on the outside, building both friendships and action-based relationships that link people through the bars. She can’t find a job, so is tethered to her “Gram” (who loves her but is prone to getting “worked up into a tizzy”). It felt absurd to blather on about my bland day job, lunchtime trips to Noodles & Company, and watching television marathons on DVD. As noted earlier, it alerts guards that you’ve got contacts and advocates on the outside, so you’re less likely to be mistreated.

Your pen pal may call you out on assumptions and biases you never realized you had. ” In early 2013, Beth Derenne from the Women’s Prison Book Project sends me a packet of thank-you letters from women who’ve participated in her book exchange. Rather, it’s about questioning the logic of a system in which a person becomes defined by one of their acts—defined as that act instead of as a person. The relationship soon ended, but Sable subsequently discussed it with a friend—who turned her in to the cops. “Sitting idle while the world wallows in ignorance and apathy just isn’t for me. I was repeating myself, struggling to avoid the one topic that burned at the forefront of my mind and the tip of my pen. Over the past eight years, I’ve corresponded with a couple of dozen pen pals in prison. LIKE US ON FACEBOOKViews The term “pen pal”—sweetly alliterative and quaint—may evoke images of doomed summer camp relationships, international exchange student assignments, and 1950s schoolgirls writing letters to soldiers with fountain pens. To top it off, he’d been an avid Punk Planet reader before he was locked up—he could name cover stories from 2001. ” Sable writes achingly of how she’s been severed from her three young kids, all under the age of eight. In Turkey, it’s eighteen. ”) When we reach out to a prisoner to “only connect,” we will always—to some extent—fail, because the barriers are so vast and so entrenched. ” (E. “It’s not that I think I won’t be able to make a positive contribution to society when I get out,” she writes, “but the stigma I will live with for the next 22 years will possibly make me shy or frightened of judgment. In the grand hierarchy of public perceptions of crime, ranging from I-don’t-know-why-this-person-is-in-prison to this-person-is-despicable-scum, people incarcerated for sex offenses are categorically deposited into the “scum” pile. ” I wonder: What defines a sex crime, what makes someone a sex “criminal,” and why am I so hesitant about writing to someone who’s been branded with that label? I’ve had pen pals who have pled guilty to murder. ” I think of my own abandoned pen pals. And in Pennsylvania, where Sable was convicted, it is sixteen; the boy with whom she had sex was fifteen years old.


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