) He worshipped nineties underground rock and had played bass and guitar for âbeer party punk bandsâ in past days. â I wrote, âI am so impressed with all you are doing!â I thought: âWhat good will any of it do? Youâre dying. So many times counselors would say âI understand. â In Spain, itâs thirteen. âWe 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 leftâbut he continued coming around at night for a couple of weeks, and Sable, drunk and lonely, suppressed her major qualms. â At this point, Iâm absorbed and pained; I feel for my new pen pal. â 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 âstatutory assaultââhaving a âsexual relationshipâ with a âknown minor maleâ 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 âmailâ: a protective shield against potential violence. I tried to send him copies of Punk Planet; they didnât get through inspection. â The Internet delivered the news: My friend had been executed in 2011. The medium of letters lends time to process words and contemplate responses.
â The pen-pal journey is certainly not the endgame; itâs the beginning game. Perhaps I shouldnât have broached the topic in the first place. Often, though, the âuseâ of pen-palship is not in the particulars of what is being communicated, but in the act of communicating. The kidsâ father, Derrick, was in prison, and Sable, overwhelmed (she says sheâd been âcodependentâ on Derrick), began to drink, use drugs heavily, and âsleep around with whoever. And, she writes, her âseparationâ extends beyond contact with her kids, and even beyond the limits of the law. I love you. The âuseâ 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. â I avoided the mailbox, falling toward a selfish, gutless conclusion: I didnât want to watch Steven die. (He was arrested at 21. â Letters, calls and visits from her children have been banned until recently, she writes: âMy 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 canât find a job, so is tethered to her âGramâ (who loves her but is prone to getting âworked up into a tizzyâ). 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 youâve got contacts and advocates on the outside, so youâre less likely to be mistreated.
Your pen pal may call you out on assumptions and biases you never realized you had. â In early 2013, Beth Derenne from the Womenâs Prison Book Project sends me a packet of thank-you letters from women whoâve participated in her book exchange. Rather, itâs about questioning the logic of a system in which a person becomes defined by one of their actsâdefined as that act instead of as a person. The relationship soon ended, but Sable subsequently discussed it with a friendâwho turned her in to the cops. âSitting idle while the world wallows in ignorance and apathy just isnât 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, Iâve corresponded with a couple of dozen pen pals in prison. LIKE US ON FACEBOOKViews The term “pen pal”âsweetly alliterative and quaintâmay 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, heâd been an avid Punk Planet reader before he was locked upâhe could name cover stories from 2001. â Sable writes achingly of how sheâs been severed from her three young kids, all under the age of eight. In Turkey, itâs eighteen. â) When we reach out to a prisoner to âonly connect,â we will alwaysâto some extentâfail, because the barriers are so vast and so entrenched. â (E. âItâs not that I think I wonât be able to make a positive contribution to society when I get out,â she writes, âbut 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-donât-know-why-this-person-is-in-prison to this-person-is-despicable-scum, people incarcerated for sex offenses are categorically deposited into the âscumâ pile. â I wonder: What defines a sex crime, what makes someone a sex âcriminal,â and why am I so hesitant about writing to someone whoâs been branded with that label? Iâve had pen pals who have pled guilty to murder. â 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.